Thursday, July 09, 2015
Is Behavioural or Native Advertising the latest smoke screen from the tech community to reinvent advertising online?
As a freelance media director for an ad agency I have been pitched ad networks, behavioural ads and native advertising concepts. As part of the due diligence in any media plan, I look at the ability to deliver to the target market, based on the person’s profile, location, timing and purchasing influence that the person has on the company’s products that I am advertising. The objective is the right person at the right time with the right message.

To illustrate this point, you don’t advertise weed killer products in December during the winter; it is the wrong time as spring would be a better time as lawns start to grow again.

Like the gambler that tries to create a computer program to pick the winner of a horse race, humankind has always tried to find a way to beat the system using technology combined with a creative idea. Math has always provided a sense of certainty in decision-making and it is hopeful that it will lead to the right answer. This human instinct has created innovation that enriches the lives of us all. The perceived pot of gold at the end of the rainbow in advertising is to create an algorithm that will predict when a person is going to buy your product, based on  delivering the right person at the right time with the right message – a form of artificial intelligence.

While science has tried to create a mathematical model on the art of advertising, I am cautious on the expectations and failure rate on these new models. For example, weather models are not 100% correct and can be wrong up to 40% of the time due to unpredictable ecosystem fluctuations, just like markets. Compounding this failure rate is the growing evidence of bots accounting for 50% of web traffic, which make online media buying more complex than traditional media. With this market scenario for online media some concepts have emerged to increase the success rate.

Using past online behaviour of web content consumed as an indicator of future buying intentions is the premise of this approach. In the tech world this approach has advanced the science to the next level, but the algorithm is only as good as the inputs in the modelling. Previous habits are just one source and cannot effectively predict a person’s buying intentions. To illustrate this point I had a colleague chat with a friend about a book on Facebook, she soon started receiving ads about the book to buy, but what the algorithm did not know she already owned the book.


But to get that information requires that the person agrees to be tracked and this has opened a can of worms for privacy laws. The major online ad companies like Google require that you login each time when they use their web browser so they can track your habits. Google has asked their users (optional) to provide a demographic profile and provide info on what ads they would like to see to address this issue for example.

They have determined that I am male 45-54 based on my website viewing habits and I am in the ad industry, which is correct but a little creepy as they are big brother watching you. If this model were used in a shopping mall where a store can follow you around the mall and provide you with a sales pitch based on stores visited, it would be in my opinion unethical and in some countries in Europe, illegal. Based on this logic I am not a big fan of behavioural advertising, as I do not want my client’s brand being associated with this unethical or illegal behaviour.

In April 2015, research by the Canadian Marketing Association found that 33% of Canadians are comfortable with behavioural advertising if the advertiser is transparent about it and gives them a chance to opt out. But 67% are not comfortable with it, and suggests that you can alienate 67% of your target audience with this approach. The companies that offer this service the ad networks have banded together to create a Digital Advertising Alliance that will provide this transparency through a program called Ad Choices that enable people to opt out, but a person must click on a very small icon to opt-out. This is a form of negative option marketing another unethical practice in my books, so this is just a smoke screen to look transparent instead of asking people upfront.

The number one thing advertisers have always wanted is an article on their company as this form communication provides 3rd party creditability to the brand. This fact is the basis of a concept call Native Advertising and is based on the principle that a sponsored article/advertorial that looks like other articles on a web site instead of an ad will work better for the advertiser. In my opinion this is a farticle (fake article) disguised as editorial called sponsored content. Lessons learned from publishers I have worked with in the past showed that these promotional articles have low credibility and are not read by readers and need to be edited by editorial before being posted to keep their trust with the brand. So how is this going to help sell product by trying to fool the reader where the lines between church and state are blurred. I surf news websites where this line is blurred, as you cannot tell the difference sometimes.

My feeling is native advertising is a concept born out of ignorance in the tech industry by somebody with no publishing or advertising experience and because it is, digital publishers are led to believe that it will work better than other methods of advertising. The assumption made by the tech community is that readers will believe these articles and I feel this isn't true. Some desperate publishers who are looking to increase online ad revenue think they will get a competitive advantage for ad dollars with this approach. I have discussed this idea with some of the publishers I work with and we decided against it, as it will hurt the brand in the long run - ie: church vs. state editorial issues.

When I wear my media buyer’s hat I want to stay away from this, as I do not want to insult my target market with a “fool the reader” approach. You need to be transparent and honest with your target market and native advertising does not meet this requirement. I would rather have an ad mixed in with editorial that reflects the needs of my target market, just like checking the editorial schedule of a magazine to plan ad insertions.

For example, If I want to reach men that like fishing, I would advertise in a magazine like Ontario Out of Doors or Outdoor Canada, versus creating a sponsored article on fishing and advertise it in an ad network. Let the content experts write the article, I just want my ad beside it.  The overconfidence of the tech community in this situation can be compared to a successful baseball coach taking his baseball techniques and becoming a hockey coach. Realistically,  the techniques will not work as the game and rules are different.
- Martin Seto
About Me
Martin Seto

Martin Seto is the producer of the Canadian Online Publishing Awards (COPAS) with 30 years of life expereince in technology, advertising, media and creative exploration. He can be reached at marty(dot)seto(at) or 416-907-6562, and on LinkedIn.

Most Recent Blog Comment
Lorene Shyba says:
Full of terrific information, Thanks!...
Blog Archive
2024 (3)
2023 (3)
2022 (3)
2021 (1)
2020 (3)
2019 (2)
2018 (6)
2017 (13)
2016 (14)
2015 (12)
2014 (12)
2013 (12)
2012 (12)
2011 (12)
2010 (8)