Putting data in context

This last month Singapore’s mums have taken shots of their children dancing with Mickey Mouse; at a bus stop of all places. Magical Moments is an inspired outdoor campaign from Disney Junior that superimposes characters onto a glass screen, so youngsters can interact with the characters in real life. It’s a great piece of work.

As a digital guy I don’t generally talk-up the benefits of outdoor, but in this case I think it illustrates one element of advertising that the digital space is perhaps slower to pick up on. The planners of this campaign know where the audience is – at a bus stop – and what they’re doing – waiting for a bus. More significantly, they have an idea of the mind space those people are in. They are ready to be distracted, particularly if it’s a long wait.

The problem for outdoor advertisers is an experience like this is difficult and expensive to scale – there are nearly 5,000 bus stops in Singapore. And, although you can use some geo-demographics based on the location of the ad, you’ll never match the precision of online for audience targeting.

Digital has advanced the realm of audience targeting to a whole new dimension. After decades making do with rudimentary demographics for TV and print buying, online advertising has pushed beyond buying based on age, gender and socio-group. With behavioural data we can identify where someone has been before, making re-targeting an effective way to push interest into a sale. With mobile data we are starting to develop a clearer picture of where people are, in much the same way outdoor advertising does, but in a more cost effective manner.

It’s easy to see why the industry is becoming fascinated with data. There’s a lot more of it and we can use it to pinpoint digital campaigns in new and exciting ways. The danger is, though, that we become so fixated with the numbers that we ignore one of the basic principles of advertising: emotion. Talk to any creative director and they’ll argue it’s the single determinant for what sells and what doesn’t. Humans simply aren’t the rationalists they think they are.

In short, engage your targeted audience with a strong creative approach that has the desired emotional response and you have a success on your hands. There’s one provision. The audience has to be in the right frame of mind to receive that creative.

That’s why the bus stop campaign is so strong – people have time on their hands so they are open to some fun. It’s a different proposition if you are working online, chasing a deadline and an intrusion, intended to entertain, turns out to be an annoyance that makes you think worse of the brand: ‘How dare you stop me doing my work!’

Hence, digital planners need to consider how predisposed the audience is given their context. At AOL, we have defined the context in eight ‘Content Moments’ based on what they are doing at the time. Are they in a mood to connect, research, socialise or be entertained, for example?

We looked at 55,000 online consumer interactions, linking context to media. For example, those looking to be ‘in the know’ will seek out websites that provide quick information, or articles and blog posts. Very few will turn to online video. Conversely, more than half of those looking to be entertained, looking for a little escapism, will seek out online video. Only seven percent will flick to social media.

The findings can be applied practicably. If you are a health and wellness advertiser the most receptive mood is from those actively seeking information, so product pages and sites offering quick online information should be a target. The same person, moments later might be in the mood for some light relief, and will most likely turn to videos for a diversion. The audience demographics are the same, their online history hasn’t changed – but their frame of mind is very different, calling for a different creative approach and media treatment.

In the digital space we’re often so focused on who we are reaching, what they’ve done and where they are, completely ignoring their frame of mind.  Yet, few would deny that it’s the audience’s receptiveness that can be the biggest influence of whether an ad works or not.

The author of the article is Alex Khan, MD, Asia, AOL.