From left, Jacqueline Leo, Samir Arora, Darren Clark, Konrad Feldman, and Alison Lowery. (Photo by Asa Mathat)
From left, Jacqueline Leo, Samir Arora, Darren Clark, Konrad Feldman, and Alison Lowery. (Photo by Asa Mathat)

It’s a quintessential consumer experience in the digital shopping age: Make an online purchase, and for the next month be fed ads for that very item every time you browse the web. If marketers really had you figured out, wouldn’t they be trying to sell you bulbs or lampshades for the chandelier you just bought, instead of another chandelier?
Online ads are already creepily close to accurate, to be sure. But as media and delivery platforms morph and as marketers access more data about consumers, ad targeting will undoubtedly become more precise and more useful, industry leaders say.
If you’re a vendor, that’s likely welcome news. How consumers will respond to marketers knowing just what they want to buy next will depend on whether “more useful” ads seem too invasive. A “Smart Media” panel discussion at Techonomy 2013 in Tucson on Monday asked, “As robust data-driven dialogues develop between brands and their constituencies, what does that mean for products, those who sell them, and those who consume?”
Longtime media executive Jacqueline Leo, editor of The Fiscal Times, moderated the discussion among Samir Arora, CEO of Glam Media, a women’s lifestyle media company; Darren Clark, Chief Technology Officer of YP, also known as;
Konrad Feldman, CEO of Quantcast, which delivers audience data to media companies; and Alison Lowery, CTO of Simulmedia, creator of a digital ad targeting platform for television.
Brands, consumers, and the media are the three competing power groups of marketing today, Leo says. She wonders how often, “When you’re looking at targeted marketing, is it working?”
Samir Arora, who spent a decade at Apple, is trained to consider consumers’ perspectives first. Their quick answer to the question, “Which part of advertising is desirable?” he says, is usually, “none.” But in truth, there are advertising mediums that hold appeal to their audience—think Vogue, or Scuba Diving magazine, or the Super Bowl, where the reader or viewer knows what to expect.
Arora says good advertising is about context. Being fed ads while you’re communicating—typing an email, for instance—feels intrusive. But ads can work well when they’re relevant to something you love and reach you while you’re doing that. This a problem the Internet is helping to solve, he says. Whether via mobile devices, PCs, or televisions, consumer brands will increasingly be able to deliver relevant marketing to customers by understanding who they are and what they want.
Darren Clark says YP re-strategized its marketing efforts to leverage information about Yellow Pages consumers. Though small business listings have traditionally been YP’s main source of revenue, Clark says, data lets his team “push it as a brand for consumers.” By analyzing searches on the site, the company can build views of who its customers are and what they’re trying to get done. Marrying consumers’ profile data to their search activities, he says, is an effective way to help users by serving them the right ads.
To provide valuable consumer data to the media industry, Quantcast looks at a lot of data from many points of view to derive profiles of sets of people. CEO Feldman says the company is “measuring media consumption from most of the online population, using sophisticated software to analyze it and create relevance.” He says advertising has always been targeted, in some sense, but that his company’s mission is to create a “much more relevant experience for users.”
As to how consumers will respond, he notes that it’s a fact of life that the vast majority of media is ad-supported. “There’s going to be some level of disruption,” he says, but adds, “When advertising is made relevant, you need far less of it” to make an impact.
Noting that Twitter’s IPO would turn up the heat on that social media platform turning a profit, Leo wonders what advertising interruptions have yet to come: “What’s going to happen to all these users who are used to a very clean experience?”
Arora notes that feeds are prime advertising real estate. “When you look at something like a Pinterest sitting on top of Facebook or Twitter, these all have one thing in common: the amount of time a person spends in the feed is more than the time spent consuming content.” In other words, they’re sharing content. On Pinterest, for instance, Arora says, every photo is re-pinned an average of eight times.
At Glam Media, Arora says, search has been a low driver of traffic to ads. “The feeds have been where people find things that are relevant,” he says. Twitter, therefore, he suggests, “is not just a newsfeed, but a consumer feed.”
Lowery notes, however, that Twitter will need to be cautious with how it wields that asset. She asks, “The strength of having access to all those relationships is powerful, but where is the creepiness boundary?”