Co-write, edit and place quadrantONE CEO Andy Ellenthal's op-ed in Adweek/Mediaweek/Brandweek

Local Target Practice

Sept 27, 2009

-By Andy Ellenthal

If you’ve ever bought or sold cable advertising, you know that local cable is more expensive—albeit much more targeted—than national cable. In a previous life, working with television media marketers, I routinely fielded the question: “Can I buy run of network nationally but target my creative locally?” And my answer was always the same: “Not yet.”

Fortunately, buyers don’t have to put up with that response anymore—thanks to online display advertising. With it, you can buy what you wish: a market, an audience, a context, etc. Generally, we can tell where a user is coming from via their IP, their registration data, their preferences or the site’s geographic footprint.

This has left me wondering, with all this data just waiting to be used, why aren’t more marketers buying nationally and targeting locally? Can anyone argue that a relevant message would be any less effective?

According to an Oct. 2008 study by Sterling Market Intelligence, zeroing in on local customers is more appealing than ever. The firm’s research shows that nearly half of the national advertisers surveyed were pursuing online local advertising, and more than 40 percent were dedicating at least a quarter of their online marketing budget to local targeting.

Geotargeting online is a simple way for advertisers to take advantage of the efficiency that comes with a large footprint buy, while increasing the creative power of being able to reach an audience directly with your message. The campaigns that work best are ones that promote geographic-appropriate products: lawn chairs in Phoenix, say, or snow blowers in Boston.

For those who fear that local targeting means fragmenting the message, remember that an ad can maintain overall brand consistency even as it promotes specific, relevant merchandise. Some of the more inspired creative ideas I’ve seen involve the use of automated tools to serve up perfectly targeted messaging. For example, a geographically relevant campaign serves one message to an urban user and another to a suburban one.
The latter may prefer a lawn mower where the former needs a storage unit. Different needs, tailored messaging, same brand.

Car advertisers are adept at creating ads that keep a real-time count of a local seller’s inventory, which works as a beautiful psychological come-on. Then there’s what I like to call “barometer ads”—retail ads that link up weather systems to sell umbrellas on rainy days, sunscreen on bright days, bathing suits on hot days and chicken soup when the temperature drops.

Some of these tactics are so obvious, you wonder why you never thought of them before. Take, for instance, strategic mapping to a user’s location; think a cruise company buying nationally, but driving traffic to the closest ports of call. How sharp is it when an area insurance agent uses mapping to send users to the nearest event or location to increase foot traffic?

It’s been my experience that direct-response advertisers have been the best early adopters of the Web’s targeting capabilities. The true experts have been the dating sites. They have managed to take the local-targeting technique to the next level by buying wide yet keeping the message granular. One no longer needs to worry that a “local single” will turn out to live in New Jersey when your ad clearly specifies “singles with the 212 area code.” (Talk about geographically desirable!)

While the possibilities are infinite, there is always an opportunity cost. However, new automation tools and technologies can help streamline the creative process. I am continuously impressed at the level of relevancy and engagement that ad units are able to provide when they combine a strong database and breakthrough creative with the right media.

The result is greater efficiency for advertisers to produce more relevant messages—a win for consumers and brands alike.

Andy Ellenthal is CEO of quadrantOne, which offers exclusive ad inventory of premium local news and information sites on a national scale.