Awash in Data, Marketers Still Find Ad Targeting Capabilities Lacking

The push for more effective ad targeting remains one of marketers’ chief priorities, evidenced by two reports released this year.

More than half of client-side marketers worldwide said leveraging data for more effective segmentation and targeting is among their top three organizational priorities in 2019, according to an Econsultancy and Adobe survey concluded in December 2018.

In a January 2019 poll of marketing industry professionals by the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) and Winterberry Group, 43.9% of respondents said that predictive modeling and segmentation is among the data-driven marketing tasks that will occupy most of their time this year. And with that comes marketers' investment in artificial intelligence (AI) products that automate the creation of custom audience segments.

But even as marketers' capabilities are expanded by technologies like AI, they still have many improvements to make. Research shows that people are increasingly finding digital ads to be too intrusive. And tracking restrictions in Apple’s Safari browser and data regulations like the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and the California Consumer Privacy Act add further difficulty to ad targeting.

Over half of the marketing professionals polled by IAB and Winterberry Group said that the threat of government regulation may impede their ability to derive value from their data-driven initiatives this year.

On the positive side, because digital advertising allows marketers to precisely target users, it has been perceived to be less wasteful than traditional media. That idea is helping drive TV advertising’s digitization. But some marketers still aren’t satisfied with what’s actually possible with digital segmentation and targeting.

Food brand Avocados From Mexico has demanded that its ad partners guarantee digital audience reach, Digiday reported. The brand asked for audience guarantees, using Nielsen measurements to verify that a majority of ads reach its intended customers. This initiative arose after the company learned that only 20% to 30% of its digital impressions had been shown to its target audience.

Other brands that use audience guarantees include Procter & Gamble, Johnson & Johnson, E*Trade, Dave & Buster's, UPS and Red Robin, according to a Nielsen spokesperson.

Avocados From Mexico’s struggle to consistently reach its intended audience is representative of the ad targeting and segmentation issues that a majority of marketers grapple with.

Those advertisers who may not be reaching their target consumers via digital channels encounter inaccurate data, web browsers purging ad trackers, and difficulties with accurately identifying users across multiple devices. And these hurdles aren’t new.

Almost two-thirds of marketing professionals polled by Winterberry Group and the Data & Marketing Association in January 2018 said improving audience segmentation to support more precise targeting was a campaign management priority.