February 1, 2016

How Micro-Targeting Invigorates Stale Campaigns

When it comes to digital advertising, is your brand still casting a wide net? How advertisers approach their target audience is changing dramatically. Still, not everyone has embraced the shifting dynamic.

The other day, I asked a buddy of mine who manages a well-known brand at a major agency to define his target audience. Without hesitation, he rattled off a gender and age bracket. Unsatisfied, but unsurprised, I pressed for something more specific than the 38.7% of the population of the United States he’d just referenced. He quickly narrowed his target further with specific household income range, family composition, ethnicity, education, and geography.

Playing devil’s advocate, I brought up a mutual friend of ours who fit every criterion he’d just rattled off and asked if this person would be an accurate representation of his target audience. We both knew full well that our friend’s interests did not align with the brand. A perfect demographic match, but a poor target.

In our industry, it’s commonplace for brands to begin their campaign goals by identifying the macro-target rather than the more specific (and more relevant) microtargets. This is a function of how media has historically been measured. For the past 75 years, the most common metric to measure media delivery has been the percentage of a certain demographic reached in a certain metropolitan area. The result is a sort of “Trickle Down” advertising, where building awareness at the top of the sales funnel eventually leads to lifted sales.

A major reason why digital ad spending is expected to soon surpass traditional TV is due to its ability to measure and target media on a more granular level. Programmatic buying can leverage 175 billion daily touchpoints on consumers to identify the most relevant traits amongst users who are actually purchasing a product or visiting a website. For the first time, advertisers can take approach the marketing funnel from the bottom-up to advertise at scale.


By studying the traits of loyal consumers, a brand can paint a much finer portrait, building microtargets off of their known user base and catering messaging to users with these relevant traits.

Old Spice’s Mom Song campaign is a great example of this approach. Historically, the audience for a brand such as Old Spice would be considered a younger male audience. However, Old Spice identified that mothers were also purchasing deodorant, presumably for their teenage sons. The campaign homed in on the message to moms that buying Old Spice would turn your son into a man.

Along with identifying relevant traits that have not typically been targeted by brands, this bottom-up approach helps prevent waste. In the case of my friend who fit the profile, there were certain traits that made him a poor target. Examining the past consumers of a brand can help identify what are also the least common traits among loyalists. Excluding these low relevance pockets from broad demographic targeting could end up saving brands millions of dollars in wasted advertising.

This isn’t to say that historic KPIs such as Target Rating Points or On-Target Percentage are poor measures of success on a programmatically executed campaign. I’d just argue that the definition of a target is changing. With the advent of bottom-up advertising, brands are identifying new, more specific targets – and it’s affecting their bottom line for the better.