Media Companies and Buyers Are Finally Getting Serious About Data and Audience-Targeted Advertising

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This year’s upfront market ended up being far healthier across the board than many had anticipated. Yet no sector was stronger than data-based advertising, which uses data sets from buyers or marketers to target audiences outside of Nielsen’s traditional age and gender demos that make up the C3 and C7 currency. All of the companies with robust data offerings—including NBCUniversal, Turner, Fox Networks Group and Viacom—saw substantial increases in their data-based transactions. Fox’s upfront included 40 percent gains in offerings like its Audience Insights Manager, while Turner doubled its upfront revenue commitments for its Audience Now platform. “To me, that means that we’re not just in testing mode anymore,” says Turner Ad Sales president Donna Speciale. “It’s becoming part of their media mix.”

After years of talking a big game about data, media companies and buyers are finally getting serious about actually conducting business using audience targeting. In March, Linda Yaccarino, NBCUniversal’s chairman of advertising sales and client partnerships, was so confident in her company’s data offerings via its Audience Studio that she publicly committed to transacting a billion dollars of advertising business this year (one-tenth of NBCUniversal’s annual ad revenue) on the platform. The announcement “was really about a demonstration of the size and the breadth of our company,” says Yaccarino, who tripled her upfront business this year in data-based advertising. “That’s the biggest growth area of our entire company.”

But the biggest industry jolt to data-based advertising should come with the launch of OpenAP, which Turner, Fox and Viacom jointly created earlier this year to provide an industry-wide audience targeting platform standard for buyers, allowing them to standardize their target segments rather than recreating them separately for each company. The platform’s beta launch is set for next month, and once those results are able to be shared, “you’re going to start seeing a lot more hand-raisers,” says Speciale. “That’s what a lot of clients have been waiting for.”

While custom targeting has been available in some form for more than six years, over the past couple years, “it has ramped up significantly as data has gotten better and better, and as the media sales community has been more comfortable with allowing their inventory to be purchased that way,” says David Cohen, president, North America, Magna Global.

Data-based and audience-targeted advertising was an early draw for “high-ticket items where there was a great ability to close the loop in terms of sales,” such as automotive, says Cohen. That has expanded to categories with “really good, granular data that allows us to prove the efficacy,” including consumer packaged goods, pharmaceuticals (which relies on healthcare data analytics from Crossix), financial services and entertainment. In general, audience targeting is more ideally suited “if you have a focused consumer or more of a niche market” than a broad-based one, says Lyle Schwartz, president of investment, North America, GroupM.
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