The Changing Face of Audience Targeting


There was a time, not that long ago, when audience segments were a boon for advertisers. Specialized categories like “car buyers” and “sports enthusiasts” were as close to the seemingly mythical goal of one-to-one messaging as the industry had ever seen. But the limits of segmentation — especially with regard to audience insights and variable recency — are now abundantly clear.

Whether it’s misreading the intent of the person you’re targeting (because browsing habits don’t always translate to shopping habits) or missing your window of opportunity (because recency can vary from “I just searched for those shoes” to “I forgot I need to buy those shoes), audience segments too often result in wasted impressions — which, given the remarkable technology at an advertiser’s disposal, shouldn’t be happening.

Targeting in Its Infancy

Still, advertising has come a long way from the days when ancient Egyptians carved public notices in steel — a single message intended for basically anyone walking by. Audience targeting wasn’t particularly commonplace until the 1950s, when the normalization of television gave businesses a portal into livings rooms across America. As families gathered to watch I Love Lucy, they saw commercials for family-focused products like refrigerators and automobiles. Likewise, teens were targeted by record player manufacturers during American Bandstand, and children were fed ads for candy and soda pop during Howdy Doody.

But this golden age of American consumerism had, ironically, minimal insight into that ever-important consumer. It wasn’t until the ’90s, with the advent of the internet, that detailed user data became available, giving marketers targeting capabilities they’d only dreamt about previously. Instead of guessing who was most likely to see an ad and make a purchase, they could make informed inferences into the interests, desires and buying habits of consumers.

The Roles of Programmatic and Unstructured Data

The introduction of programmatic ad buying made this process even more efficient. The now-antiquated model of picking up the phone to place a media buy was subsequently replaced by demand-side platforms and real-time bidding exchanges, in which individual ad impressions are sold to the highest bidder in less than a second. From an ad-buying perspective, the programmatic ecosystem helps to maximize value and increase precision, but the inefficiencies of audience segments will always be there, obstructing the path toward a truly meaningful one-to-one experience.

Enter unstructured data, among the most significant breakthroughs in the quest for one-to-one advertising in the digital realm. Rather than using prepackaged audience segments to target consumers,’s unstructured data platform makes every individual data element, including recency, visible and valuable. So instead of rigidly lumping groups of consumers together, advertisers now have the ability to target, bid, optimize and report on the precise individual profile they want to target at the moment most likely to lead to conversion, with virtually any combination of element-level data points at their disposal.

Optimizing Delivery

But it’s not just about the data — everyone has data. It’s about what you do with it, too. When you couple the exactness of unstructured data with the myriad delivery tactics we offer, it will ensure that you’re serving the most relevant and timely message to the person it’s most likely to resonate with. Whether it’s search and site retargeting, contextual targeting, or geo-fencing,’s proprietary services use unstructured data to pinpoint prospective buyers, track conversions and make one-to-one advertising a reality for our clients.

For example, instead of trying to predict intent with a pre-established “car buyer” segment, advertisers can target those looking for a red 2017 Chevy Silverado 1500 who have been to in the last 30 days, Googled “Chevy dealership near me” in the last 24 hours, or even physically been to a competing dealer within the last 5 minutes. This is an unprecedented amount of insight into the intent of the consumer, reaching them in the research phase and providing the level of detail necessary to lead them further down the purchase funnel — and ultimately convert them into buyers.

Dynamic Creative and the Future of Targeting

The research phase is especially critical in the auto industry, and’s Prospecting Dynamic Creative for Auto can take those same data-driven insights and create a personalized display ad in real time. The introduction of Prospecting Dynamic Creative is a first in the programmatic industry and a big leap forward for audience targeting.

This turnkey solution for auto dealers, which doesn’t require a website visit for the ad to be served, is designed to reach users while in the top-funnel research phase of the car-buying experience, with customized ads based on the keywords they’re searching for and the content they’re reading. Color, classification, new vehicles, pre-owned vehicles, certified vehicles — these are just a few of the contextual elements we use to dynamically serve the ads, and we intend to expand this technology to non-auto verticals in the future.

The future will include many opportunities for one-to-one marketing, such as on television, and the expansion of out-of-home delivery through cars, buses and billboards. And these are just a few of the virtually endless possibilities in a pure one-to-one landscape. is working tirelessly to bring this level of timely audience targeting to all available ad inventory. Given the rate at which the industry’s progressing, that time could be here before you know it.