Sunday 25 September 2016

As seen on TV: the ads on your smartphone

Published 29/11/2015 | 02:30

Get ready for the digital double act between your TV and smartphone
Get ready for the digital double act between your TV and smartphone

Ever noticed a particular set of ads following you from website to website? No matter where you go online, the same ads reappear? If so, chances are you're being retargeted.

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Retargeting is a form of online advertising where ads for products or services are served to consumers who have previously visited the websites of particular brands.

But now it looks like retargeting is set pursue audiences more assiduously than ever before, and even follow them from one type of screen to another. The latest reincarnation of retargeting will mean that ads audiences have already seen on their television screens will be popping up on their smartphones.

This pursuit of consumers across screens and devices has been a holy grail for digitally minded marketers for some time. This latest attempt at tracking audiences across different platforms comes courtesy of two companies that are getting used to a being part of bigger entities.

One is Rentrak, a video measurement firm that's in the process of merging with comScore; the other is Millennial Media, a mobile advertising that was just bought by AOL.

So how will this digital double act work?

Rentrak tracks set-top box data across 25 million households for cable and satellite providers. It will match the ads shown on its set-top boxes with Millennial Media's data management programme.

Millennial Media will then anonymously match the Rentrak-cultivated audiences with its database of 190 million monthly smartphone and tablet users to serve mobile video ads to the cross-screen audience it has defined.

It's possible for viewers who have already seen a brand's TV ad, to be reminded of the brand on their phone, served details of local promotions or encouraged to sign up for services or further information.

Advertisers will also be able to target mobile ads to smartphone users that have seen competitors' ads.

As if that wasn't enough, Millennial Media is also promising to track online actions, foot traffic to stores, and subsequent purchases through other partnerships. It is, therefore, promising advertisers through-the-line measurement of consumers' paths to purchase.

What could possibly go wrong? Apart from troublesome viewers getting up to make a cup of tea when the ads come on.

TV and smartphones are in intriguing positions in relation to media consumption and media buying trends.

According to data from Nielsen, the typical American's share of daily media time spent in front of a TV tumbled from 44pc to 36pc from 2008 to 2015. At the same time, the smartphone grew from 3pc to 24pc. According to eMarketer, US consumers now spend two hours and 48 minutes a day consuming digital media on a smartphone.

But mobile media spend has yet to catch up with consumer habits. Mobile accounts for only 8pc of advertising spend in the US. And as TV has remained relatively strong, piggybacking on the back of expensive TV campaigns to reach smartphone users seems like a smart move.

The aim is undoubtedly to provide brands that are more comfortable with TV advertising with an entry point into using the smaller screen. It's an attempt to get them hooked on the mobile habit.

Making mobile converts of TV's big spenders and reinventing its digital advertising products for a mostly mobile audience is one of the reasons AOL recently spent $238m on Millennial Media.

Together, AOL and Millennial Media have a reach that encompasses 800 million active unique profiles, 700 million monthly unique users, and 65,000 apps. But just to make things more complicated, AOL was itself bought by the telecoms giant Verizon earlier this year.

In October, Verizon's privacy policy was updated to say that AOL data would be merged with Verizon's user profile data, contact details, cookies, Apple and Google ad IDs, device type and information on use of Verizon's own products. All this consolidation of data lead one observer to claim Verizon was creating "a mini-Facebook killer for mobile sales".

But it's important that marketers don't get carried away by all this data-led excitement. Tracking audiences, onboarding third-party data, deterministic attribution; it all sounds cutting edge and exciting, but tracking consumers across devices should be seen as a means and not an end in itself.

It's a means of delivering quality and relevant marketing messages that convert. The scientific jiggery pokery may be impressive, but it can only ever open the door. After that good creative, imaginatively expressed is required to seal the deal.

As William Bernbach, one of the most influential ad men of all time, said: "Advertising is fundamentally persuasion and persuasion happens to be not a science, but an art."

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