New evidence has emerged of the wastefulness of many online ad campaigns, with a major study revealing that only just over half (53%) of all ads served in UK were viewed by people of the age and gender advertisers intended.
The Nielsen study – of more than 44,000 campaigns across 17 countries – paints a worrying picture of the sort of mistargeting and inadequate campaign planning which many brands have already raised fears about.
The accuracy of ad targeting varies widely by sector, with travel marketers currently the most likely to reach their desired audience in the UK (doing so 66% of the time) followed by entertainment (64%). On the other hand, FMCG (40%) and retail (42%) marketers are most likely to struggle hitting their target audience.
However, accuracy varies significantly depending on what demographic group’s campaigns are aimed at. For example, campaigns focusing on 25- to 44-year-olds reached the desired audience 38% of the time, compared to 44% in campaigns targeting 18-34s and 58% for 35-64s.
The data, collected by the company’s Digital Ad Ratings service which measures websites, apps and online services, also reveals desktop (53%) and mobile (52%) campaigns perform equally well when it comes to reaching broad audiences. However, mobile campaigns are more accurate in targeting narrower ones.
For example, if targeting one gender only across a ‘medium’ age range (spanning 16-30 years), mobile is successful 33% of the time compared to 28% on desktop. For a ‘narrow’ range (less than 16 years), 22% of mobile impressions reach their target audience, outdoing desktop’s 20%.
“Although 100% accuracy is likely to remain a pipe-dream, a school report on digital technology’s ability to hit specific audiences might read ‘could do better’,” said Barney Farmer, Nielsen’s marketing effectiveness director in the UK & Ireland. “However, in fairness it’s more precise than traditional media and performance is improving all the time, particularly on mobile, whose superiority in reaching narrower audiences reinforces its status as the most highly personal ad medium.”
The study, involving nearly 3,400 UK campaigns run between April and June 2016, also showed that campaigns bought directly from a website publisher are slightly more accurate at hitting target audiences (doing so 55% of the time) than via a third-party ad platform/network (52%).
The overall UK success rate of 53% is lower than Germany (58%) and Italy (57%) but noticeably higher than in France (43%).
This represents the first time Nielsen has publicly released a benchmark study from Digital Ad Ratings. Farmer notes: “Advertisers and their agencies should have more visibility about campaign performance from independent third parties rather than relying solely on what publishers tell them. At the moment, there’s plenty of reporting on standard delivery – such as amount of impressions and level of viewability – but nowhere near enough about who campaigns actually reached.”
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