In 1990 NASA launched the Hubble space telescope. Designed to float above the distorting optical effect of the Earth’s atmosphere, the project’s aim was to provide clear, focused views of a diverse range of objects that, to the naked eye, looked exactly the same.
When it was switched on, although the images were better than we'd seen before, they lacked clarity.
NASA realised that in order for Hubble to fulfil its potential, it needed to fit new optics to the telescope – effectively giving it a pair of glasses. These 'spectacles' would provide much greater definition, making blurry images crystal clear and allowing NASA to zoom in more precisely on the areas they wanted to target.
For the last decade, digital advertising has been a blurry telescope. Consumer data gathered online, such as cookies, affords us a closer look at consumers – but only in terms of the general outline. The detail is blurred. As a result, a lot of the money spent on online advertising is wasted – around £500m in the UK alone according to some reports.
Sharpening the programmatic picture
The latest development in digital advertising is programmatic advertising. While programmatic advertising has elevated targeted ads above the distorting impact of the Earth’s atmosphere and reduced waste, it does not have the lens on it that leads to the best results.
Without glasses, even programmatic advertising will continue to churn out ads to the wrong people.
What it needs is another source of digital data that both runs parallel to and compliments cookies. Currently, cookies show basic data – collecting information from IP addresses to see where people go and when. However, even though programmatic advertising can take the data from cookies and make the picture sharper, it can only do some much.
In order to get both cookies and programmatic advertising working to their full potential, digital ad servers have to employ connected data sets.
The common footprint of cookies and connected data is the IP address. While cookies onle tell you where people went and when, connected data tells advertisers much more about the person behind the cookie – enabling ad campaigns to accurately target very specific groups of consumers. It allows ad servers to know, among other things, where the person behind the cookie shops, whether they have children, what they think of a particular brand and which financial products they own.
For example, a campaign aimed at working mothers who shop at a particular supermarket and who prefer a specific type of fizzy drink can be delivered directly to this bespoke group. Using connected data brings everything into focus, removing the guesswork and waste from serving ads.
When NASA added glasses to the Hubble Space Telescope, instead of hoping it was looking at the right thing, it knew it was. Twenty years later, Hubble is still zooming in on amazingly diverse objects that, to the naked eye, look almost indistinguishable.
Programmatic advertising is a similar leap forward. To give consumers a better experience and to cut waste, let’s make sure we use it to its fullest extent.