What distinguishes the internet is the extensive level of information about ordinary people that it possesses. Facebook can reveal what people are interested in, where they go online, what apps they use, and who their friends are. Twitter can tell who they follow and what they follow. Google knows what they search. LinkedIn knows their resume and their work life connections. The makers of the operating systems of their mobile devices can tell what apps they have downloaded, and online (as well as offline) retailers, know what they buy and their credit card numbers.

Another key advantage of the net is the ability to personalize and channel advertising to the individual (device). Unlike TV where all those watching a programme get to see the same advertisements, on the net the ad server may direct different advertisement to different browsers. This customization allows advertisers to finely target their advertisements to increase the effectiveness of the ad.

Advertisers use the following approaches, among others, to target viewers:

  • Behavioural targeting: By collecting data about a viewer’s online behaviour, across several websites, advertisers are able to create a picture of the viewer’s interests, and direct advertisements that relate to these interests.
  • Retargeting (aka behavioural retargeting or behavioural remarketing) is online advertising targeted to consumers, particularly those who, by their actions on the marketer’s website, expressed interest but did not convert. Those relevant actions taken by a prospective user are captured by means of a tag, which sets a cookie in the prospect’s browser. The advertiser can then “follow” the prospect on the net and direct ads via an ad exchange.
  • Demographic targeting.
  • Geotargeting (geographic location using for instance, the Internet Protocol [IP] address or a phone’s Global Positioning System [GPS] receiver).
  • Persona-based targeting: Advertisers may group viewers according to traits that allude to their objectives. For instance landing pages, or traffic sources (i.e. referring site), keywords searched, or event based (e.g. filling a form, or buying something). This information may be used for delivering relevant advertisements.
  • Access to user profiles on social networks allow for targeting based on a wide variety of interests, activities, skill sets, behaviours and more granular demographics.
  • Contextual/semantic targeting is used when advertiser choose to deliver ads that relate to the content of the web page where the ads appear. Though on a large scale this might not be easy, advertisers would be keen to place their ads in brand-additive environments that are aligned to their brand’s core values.  They would also harbour concerns about brand safety. The appearance of an ad next to questionable or inharmonious content not only detracts from the brand message but can also have a detrimental impact on the brand image. For example, if an ad for a chocolate runs next to news on obesity, the impact of the ad is likely to be unfavourable. (Misplacement of ads is a problem that social media platform are struggling with. In March 2017 a number of big organizations, including GSK, Pepsi, Walmart, Johnson & Johnson, The Guardian and Walmart pulled their ads out from Google after they appeared next to videos promoting extremist views or hate speech).
  • Interest targeting aims at specific audiences based on their self-reported interests, abilities, activities, browsing history and so on.
  • Custom/tailored audiences: On social networks, advertisers can target consumers known to them (i.e., sourced from CRM database) by suppling contact details such as email addresses, phone numbers etc.
  • Lookalike Audiences: Advertisers may also target prospects that match the profile of some other group of people, for instance, a high-value customer segment.
  • Connection targeting: Access to social graphs on social platforms, allows advertisers to target prospects who are connected by page, app, group, or event.

Effective targeting increases the relevance of advertising to viewers, thus improving the advertiser’s return on investment. There are limitations particularly when IP addresses are employed for targeting audiences, or even when a cookie or web storage is used. Social networks, however, are blessed with extensive information that their users are prepared to share, and they do not need to rely on these methods to craft the identities of their users.

Internet advertising is also highly transparent. Advertising platforms allow marketers to track and measure the performance of their ad campaigns by means of analytic tools that trace users as they click the ad and traverse the destination site. Advertisers are able to gauge the number of leads and increase in sales resulting from the ads.

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