Buying Audiences, Getting Worked

You can go to the trouble of carefully segmenting your market, identifying several heterogenous segments and placing each individual or household in one mutually exclusive and collectively exhaustive segment. Then you can carefully develop marketing strategies for each segment that move the prospect down the purchase funnel, culminating in a sale at–ideally–an acceptable ROMI.

Or you can find some “audiences” and let an algorithm decide who gets your ads and when. And get worked by the legions of adtech providers.

Think I’m being a little dramatic or that “I don’t get it, man?” Try this:

  • Fire up your Twitter app
  • Start blocking every sponsored post (ad)
  • Do this for a few weeks

You’ll notice two things:

  • The ad frequency stays the same
  • The relevancy of the ads gets even worse

Wait, I thought the modern age of non-intrusive advertising was supposed to give me only the relevant ads I wanted to see, lovingly presented to me by some perfect algorithm hand-crafted in a loft in SoHO? Ta-da–you’ve just seen what happens when you get stuffed into an “audience.”

You see, any publisher (e.g. Twitter) is never going to let that ad inventory go unsold. And since most advertisers aren’t looking so hard at what they’re buying, it doesn’t matter if you serve up a few (million) irrelevant ads. And if you think the algorithms are smart enough to only serve up relevant ads, I’ve got a couple of Ragdoll cats here that can do calculus.

If the algorithms are so smart, why do I now see ads on Twitter (before I block the advertiser) for:

  • The Washington NFL franchise. After all, even a cursory look at my Twitter feed shows that I’m a big advocate of #changethename and won’t use the racist nickname of that team.
  • McDonald’s recruitment ads for entry level jobs. Uh, 34 years late, but nice try. Even if it is in Spanish.
  • Many companies looking to hire in states 600+ miles away. And for entry level jobs. My profile even says where I’m located, but why let that detail get in the way of an impression?
  • FREE webinars! Uh, no. Never. Even if you could coherently explain in <140 characters why what you’re selling is relevant to me. Which you can’t.

So what’s happened? Twitter and their adtech vendors have conspired to take advantage of poor/non-existent segmentation decisions on the part of the marketer by creating algorithms that run as many impressions as possible, for the highest possible rate. As long as the advertiser or their agency doesn’t ask too many questions or audit the impression trail, nobody’s any the wiser.

The bad news is that your smartest prospects can see the useless ads and are taking action by installing ad blockers, using private browsing, VPNs and blocking individual advertisers, etc. So you’re probably serving the same amount of impressions to less-relevant audiences each and every day.

The solution is not to buy more adtech or add more to your tech stack. It’s getting back to basics. The answer is practicing proper marketing science. It’s not that hard and you’ll notice that none of it starts with “audiences”:

  • Hire trained marketers, not dilettantes
  • Segment your audience
  • Define your target segments
  • Understand the purchase funnel
  • Develop marketing strategies to address each segment
  • Develop tactical plans to move the prospect through the purchase funnel
  • Carefully measure each step of the way
  • Make improvements to each “hole in the bucket”
  • Audit each and every media buy, in detail

Do the above and win. Or get worked by your digital publishers and adtech vendors. Your choice.



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