Yes, Ad Targeting Can Be Too Narrow


(By Bob McCurdy) I recently read a post titled, “The Other Problems(s) with Commercials,” written by the smart folks at Nuvoodoo that focused on the relevance of radio commercials as well as their overall quality. The post can be found here.

One of the study’s conclusions was that about 70% of those surveyed agreed that most commercials on radio do not apply to them:

As our consumer experience is increasingly connected with digital media, where ads are served up based on individual browsing history and the deep information available via Big Data, we’re coming to expect that ads are always relevant to us. Compared to TV and newspaper, precise targeting had been a selling point for radio. Sadly, the very nature of broadcast media means that the ads aren’t customized down to the individual.

I have a slightly contrarian view and believe it’s actually a marketing benefit not having all ads customized, as advertising to both the “interested” and “soon-to-be-interested” generates more overall revenue than advertising to only those interested.

Thirty percent of respondents in this study indicated the commercials do apply to them, that’s pretty good for a message that’s “broadly cast.” And for the remaining 70% with whom the commercials “might not apply,” I’d add one word: “yet” — as in “might not apply… yet.”

Consumer needs and circumstances are constantly evolving, so commercial messaging that was once not relevant quickly becomes relevant, so it’s beneficial for any advertiser to have some share-of-mind prior to being needed. Plus, even when a commercial might not be “relevant,” it can still generate meaningful word-of-mouth.

Unquestionably, some degree of targeting is desirable, but we often ascribe too much importance to it as well as wrongfully assuming that all targeting reaches its intended audience.

This week, Ad Age ran an article, “5 Reasons Brands Have Never Been More Challenged,” that referenced data from Millward Brown’s BrandZ report. It can be read here. One of the reasons, according to Millward’s data, brands are so challenged is that “targeting is not a substitute for mass reach”:

The programmatic and digital revolution in media has given rise to the ability for marketers to target very narrow groups of consumers. To thrive, however, brands need mass. As Professor Byron Sharp, author of “How Brands Grow” is fond of reminding marketers, their livelihoods depend on reaching a lot of people to try to persuade a few to include their brand in their consideration-set and purchase it.

Maria Mandel Dunsche, VP Head of Marketing at AT&T AdWorks has also said of targeting, “Ultimately, targeting doesn’t need to be extreme, marketers can also target just enough to minimize waste, [but] not so much that you reduce reach.” Fernando Arriola, VP Marketing ConAgra has also gone on record saying, “When you target more tightly, it increases return, but targeting too tightly decreases return.”

Gordon Euchler, Head of Planning at BBDO, wrote that targeting people with a high propensity to purchase “has a tendency of emptying the pool of people in the market without refilling it.”

Broadcast refills the pool.

Delivering advertising that doesn’t “apply” is not the sole domain of traditional media. How many times have we been ineffectively “retargeted” online?

Retargeting focuses on those who left a website without taking the desired action, so the act of serving the consumer “reminder” ads is an attempt by the brand to maintain “presence,” so retargeting is in essence a form of frequency, an area in which radio also excels. Maybe we should begin referring to radio not as a “reach and frequency” medium but a “reach and retargeting” medium.

Additionally, today’s targeting capabilities are not laser-like. Nielsen’s Megan Clarken wrote that across digital campaigns targeted to A18-49, Nielsen sees on average only 68% delivery on target. This figure decreases as the demo constricts. She noted that a target of W18-34 typically results in 23% delivery on target.

Are these online targeting stats that much different than using an AC station to target women (62% of its audience) or A25-54’s (52% of its audience)? Or using an AOR station to target men (71% of its audience) or A25-54’s (70% of its audience)? Or using a CHR station to target women (60% of its audience) or A18-49’s (70% of its audience)?

Some targeting capabilities of the digital audio providers don’t appear to be much better: I’ve recently been served an ad in Spanish by Spotify, and a commercial for an auto dealership by Pandora that was 1,000 miles away.

FCB Global Chief Creative Officer Susan Credle might have said it best when discussing the importance of broadly communicating a message: “I’ve always believed advertising exposes people to choices. Advertising might show me something that I’d never thought about before, something that might make a difference in my life. And on the business side, brands might find people they never knew would love them.”

Radio enables advertisers to market to both the currently “interested” and the “soon-to-be interested,” a nice recipe for marketing success. But the best recipe for marketing success in 2017 is the consistent and synergistic use of both digital and broadcast to tout a product or service.

Bob McCurdy is Vice President of Sales for the Beasley Media Group and can be reached at [email protected].


  1. My experience in creating broadcast messages is that while you can craft a commercial to reach a “targeted” audience, the more interesting, compelling, and captivating the story is, the more effectively you’ll reach not only the intended niche audience, but also a much broader segment, as Bob states, through word-of-mouth. Too often, broadcasters use targeting as an excuse to create lackluster commercials. It’s a disservice to our clients and to our own financial success.

  2. The internet has changed the way people buy. Our local Share of Mind Surveys prove that advertisers who target “interested’ or ‘soon-to-be-interested’ buyers, better hope that none of their competitors have used a broader reach to create a pre-interest, pre-search preference for their brand.
    Our surveys clearly identify targeting as “too late marketing”. It’s hard to influence or change a stuborn consumers brand preference if you wait until they have they’re credit card out to talk to them.

  3. It’s interesting that with online advertising I seem to be targeted with the things I’ve already bought. Some computer knows I’m a scuba diver and bombards me with links. Yet I have all the gear I will ever need! 🙂
    And they say that’s targeted advertising.


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