Dr Sharp: Digital ad targeting has been oversold

Ehrenberg-Bass institute director also suggests marketers have rushed to digital advertising without understanding what they're buying and it's time for a rethink

Dr Byron Sharp
Dr Byron Sharp

The value of precision targeting in advertising has been massively oversold and there’s still a need for mass market campaigning, Dr Byron Sharp claims.

Speaking on the latest episode of the AANA’s Marketing Dividends program on Sky Business TV, the director of the Ehrenberg-Bass Institute at the University of South Australia Business School took aim at the way digital marketers have narrowed their focus through personalisation, and pointed out the biggest brands in the world were built through reaching out to broader markets.

“The lure of precision targeting has been massively oversold,” Dr Sharp said. “Marketing science clearly states we need to reach all categories of buyers, and the value of targeting smaller segments is actually far less effective.

“The ability of these new media to even deliver on targeting is far less than what is promised.”

Dr Sharp also criticised the way digital giants such as YouTube, Facebook and Google have been evaluating their own effectiveness, noting that it’s the equivalent of a TV station running its own rating scheme.

“Marketers were originally sold the idea that in digital, there will be these fantastic trustworthy metrics,” he commented. “Digital was given a ‘get out of jail free card’ for too long.”

As an example, Dr Sharp noted the current backlash and boycott against YouTube for placing ads against inappropriate and extreme content. As well as suggesting it wasn’t as big an issue as was being made out, he again suggested the problem was that marketers have been motivated by money rather than brand safety.

“The problem with digital has been it’s fashionable, people have rushed like lemmings to the edge of the cliff and thrown huge amounts of money at something without fully knowing what they are buying,” he said.

The latest scandals should trigger a pulling back on digital, a flight to quality and demand for metrics that are trustworthy, Dr Sharp said.

“The current YouTube scandal we have at the moment, has given marketers permission to pull back and say ‘maybe we don’t know what we are buying here. Maybe we’re spending billions of dollars of shareholder money and maybe we should be more circumspect,” he added.

But for Dr Sharp, the key to winning over consumers is to get in front of consumers more often.

“The biggest mistake that marketers make is that they forget they’re in a battle for physical and mental availability,” he said. “Marketers think the primary issues holding their brands back are some sort of attitude problem or that their brand isn’t loved enough. In reality, consumers just aren’t thinking of the brand enough.”

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