Online Ad Targeting: From ‘Maximize’ to ‘Optimize’

November 10, 2008

Had this article published in e-Commerce Times today:

E-Commerce News: E-Marketing: Online Ad Targeting: From ‘Maximize’ to ‘Optimize’
The backlash against ad targeting is somewhat understandable, writes Mike Troiano, CEO of Matchmine, but advertisers rely on some degree of targeting to sustain their business, and customers really hate irrelevant ads. What about optimizing ad targeting rather than maximizing


How To Make An Ad

August 15, 2008

It’s not uncommon these days for Joe Blow Web 2.0 to need to create an ad for something, in digital or physical media. Most of what they produce is a waste of money and time, and though that’s all too often true of The Professionals as well, pros like my friend at right have a distinct advantage in the form of something called a Creative Brief.

A Creative Brief is a kind of intellectual scaffolding for the magic of great ad creation. It frames the communication challenge in a way that helps talented people come up with a solution. While different agencies have their own take on the particulars, most of the big boys use a minor variant of the below.

Get In The Zone

Start by thinking about your target… not as a “Target Audience,” but as a person. Put them in your head… A real live individual, think about what they look like, and what they’re doing at the time they get your message. Ready?

OK… 5 Steps, to be done in order:

  1. Define the Desired State: What is it, exactly, that you want this person to think, feel, or do as a result of receiving this communication?
  2. Define the Current State: Relative to the Desired State, what does he/she think, feel, or do today, in advance of receiving this communication?
  3. Define the Key Thought: What is the singular, essential idea you believe will move this person from the Current State to the Desired State?
  4. Define the Support Points: What evidence, if any, to you have to prove or evidence the validity of this Key Thought? If more than 3, what are the 3 most impactful?
  5. Begin Creative Process. Once you have all that straight, we can start noodling ideas that will capture your target’s attention enough to deliver the Key Thought.

While there are no guarantees this approach will yield an ad that does what you want it to do, it will at least give you a fighting chance to come with what the late, great David Ogilvy called a “Big Idea.”

Coaxing Virality

August 13, 2008

Post here from the perennially provocative Marta Kagan, distilled with significant loss of charming snarkyness to this:

I’ve said it before—and I’ll probably have to say it a zillion times again before anyone listens: YOU CAN’T CREATE “VIRAL.”

Got me thinking… Is that right? She added a list of things that contribute to virality:

  1. Value
  2. Fun
  3. Creativity
  4. Timing
  5. Distribution
  6. Magical pixie dust

Good list… but are there more? Here’s my list of Other Things That Increase The Likelihood of Virality:

  • Celebrity. The playing field isn’t level among people who create viral content. Generally speaking, famous people have an easier time creating famous content. George Clooney’s output is more likely to become viral than Robert Scoble’s, whose is more likely than mine, whose is more likely than my Aunt Lala’s. If you buy that, and expect that making something viral might be useful down the road, then you should be investing the time and energy to cultivate and maintain some level of personal visibility on the web. While fame is a long shot, if you can at least get a large network of people interested in what you have to say, you’ll increase your odds of getting the word out when you need to.
  • Proximity. Too lazy, dumb, or time-pressed to get a large number of people to be interested in what you have to say? You, my friend, need to get closer to the People Who Matter. The good news is that if Steve Rubel LOVES your whatever it might become famous among persons of a certain archetype. The bad news is you need to cut through the clutter of the thousand or so other schmucks competing for his affection.
  • Tenacity. You either hit or you don’t, right? Bullshit. How many “Will It Blend?‘s” were there before that thing went nuclear? LONELYGIRL15 took a long time to build her following, as did Zefrank, Fake Steve Jobs and others. While it’s true that some things come out of nowhere and are everywhere suddenly, just as many others bide their time in the woodwork before being ignited by something they might never have anticipated at the start.
  • Scarcity. Think about this: Would Evolution of Dance be the 2nd most viewed video on YouTube if it were added today? NFW. It went viral because in the vacuum of genuinely entertaining stuff that was on YouTube when it emerged from the primordial ooze in April of 2006, it was the thing to watch. Every new service launch creates the potential for a breakout, viral event. Blogging did it for Doc Searls, MySpace did it for Tila Tequila, Twitter did it for Pistachio. All of these people have something to add (two of them, anyway,) but so do lots of other folks. They offered something of value in an emergent context, and rode the wave of that new “medium” to become viral “brands” in their own right. If you want to go viral, you need to be among the first to try new media as they emerge.
  • Humanity. Finally, it seems to me that most of the stuff that goes viral touches something fundamental in us. It’s not intellectual, or well crafted; it’s rarely overproduced, or requiring of special skills. It’s something universal, something anyone anywhere can easily grasp, appreciate, and want to pass along to someone they care about. At it’s most base it might be toilet humor or a great rack (had fun considering a link for that, thought the better of it…). At it’s most elevated, though, it’s something that gets under the stuff that makes us different, and touches the things that make us all the same.

So what am I missing? If you can’t make something viral, what else can you do to improve your odds?

Support Our SXSW Panel!

August 8, 2008

It’s that time of year again, time for the annual beauty contest that is the SXSW Panel Picker.

(Cooler than logo, links to SXSW site.)

(Cooler than logo, links to SXSW site.).

Here’s our pitch:

“Just For You”… Really?
Level: Advanced
Type: Panel
Category: New Technology / Next Generation
Presenter: Mike Troiano, matchmine LLC
Description: Personalization technologies are all over the web now, with applications everywhere offering recommendations for movies, music, video, blogs and most anything else we might like online. Do any of these systems work, and if so how? Is “Discovery” the next “Search,” or just an excuse for behavioral targeting systems that compromise privacy? Finally… If you’re a site publisher interested in adding personalized recommendations, how do you pick a partner to help you get there, or strike out on your own and get the feature built????


Meat in the Machine

August 7, 2008

Don Dodge has a characteristically thoughtful post here asking a bunch of good questions about why there seems to be such a big gap between the promise and the reality of online ad targeting:

Lots of startups and VCs are pinning their hopes on this simple premise. It seems obvious, but there is very little evidence to support it. So what is wrong?

  • Is the ad serving technology not able to take advantage of all this new “attention data” to better target the ads?
  • Are advertisers not willing to pay higher CPM rates for the better targeting?
  • Has ad targeting been tried with all this “attention data” and the results are not much better?
  • Is there just too much ad inventory which is depressing prices?
  • Are we just too early in the game to get good results?

Collectively, kind of.

To be more precise, starting at the top, the ad serving technology has not yet made it sufficiently easy for advertisers and their agencies to better target the ads.

Joe Blow Media Buyer

Sometimes tech folk forget that at the other end of the digital tentacles reaching across the ad-powered web, sooner or later, is a person pulling the levers. Joe Blow media buyer – think pimply-faced state college graduate 2-years out of school making $18K/year and living in Queens – simply can’t keep up with the pace of innovation on the web. They learn a few of the biggest ad targeting systems, which incidentally are the only ones with sufficient scale for them to complete their buys and move on, and crank 90% of their ad budgets through them. Once in a while one of the better ad network sales guys buys them some really good sushi and makes a decent case for some experiment, and voila, that technology gets thrown a $10K “test buy” bone.

If it works as promised – “works” being hard to both define and measure given the current cacophony of competing measurement standards and conflicting data – Joe may up the ante, and pay more for it on a CPM basis than he’d been willing to up to that point. Still, the equation he solves in his head:

  1. What is the probability that doing this will make me a hero with my boss and/or client?
  2. What is the probability that said boss and/or client is going to smack me for wasting time on this $35K diversion instead of doing everything I can to “optimize” the $500,000.00 buy we already have in process on Yahoo?
  3. Is the potential upside of 1. materially greater than the potential downside of 2.?

Goop in the Tranny

My point is simple: The reason all these Ferrari-esque ad targeting engines aren’t driving the wheels as fast as it seems they should is that there are a bunch of messy, imperfect, easily bored and overworked human beings gumming up the transmission.

The pace of progress in the ad targeting business will NOT be constrained by the capabilities of the technology to deliver improvements. The bottleneck is elsewhere… namely in Joe Blow’s ability to identify, grasp, and fully leverage the capabilities of that technology. That’s the lag, Don, at least IMHO.

Good News on the Horizon

So where are we in that process? Don refers to a pretty comprehensive post on the subject by CNET’s Stefanie Olsen, where she opines:

The first wave of Internet investing dealt with commercializing the Web, helping companies like and eBay get on their way. The second wave has been about helping people socialize and connect through sites like Flickr, YouTube, and Facebook. The third, venture capitalists say, will be about making sense of all the data people create around the Web, and then searching for patterns in the data to improve the delivery of personalized content, search results, or advertising.

Amen. I think we’re getting there, glad some smart folks on the VC side seem to agree.

What the frak is Social Media?

July 2, 2008

Great slideshow here, from the lovely, talented and rarely-limited-by-underconfidence Marta Kagen.

Entrant in the “World’s Best Presentation” contest on Slide, please vote for it if you’re so inclined.

Sponsoring Content, Context Are Not the Same

July 2, 2008

My monthly column, now up on ADOTAS

Sometimes you experience a new product online, and the penny drops on a whole new understanding of how media is changing. I recently had just such an experience, and you should have it too.

The product is called “Feedly,” and it’s available right here for that shiny new Firefox 3 browser you just downloaded.

Feedly rather humbly bills itself as an “attempt … to create a more social and magazine-like start page.” It’s a browser plug-in that delivers the Web 2.0 version of what we used to call a “portal” back in the day, the home page that kicks off your journey through cyberspace each time you start your browser. There are more than a few of these things out in the world already, most of which leverage Real Simple Syndication (RSS) technology to compile content from disparate sources on the Web into a single interface. There are great introductions to RSS already, so I’ll skip that to focus on what it all means for the advertising business.

What it means, gentle reader, is that the space where the vast majority of promotional spending is nestled cozily right now is starting to disappear like arctic coastline. Don’t see it? Skeptical? Let me explain… MORE