From Display to Audience-Based Advertising

August 3, 2015

Oftentimes with the evolution of online technologies, the buzz preceded the actualities by years. But, eventually the eagle does land. Look at mobile advertising: from 2007’s launch of the first iPhone, every year in marketing has been dubbed “the year of the mobile”…. and yet none actually were THE year. But nevertheless here we are in 2015, and mobile is stronger than ever with rapidly increasing budgets and a slew of new tools and technologies. With Facebook successfully making the leap and effectively becoming a mobile company, the future of mobile advertising looks brighter than ever.

In this post, I will describe a significant transition I believe is happening in one of the oldest and most ubiquitous forms of online ads: display. I will come back and forth and explain how things used to be, and how and why they are transforming. Bear with me..

Short History of Display Advertising

For years the banner ad was relatively unsophisticated and considered not very effective – due to limited targeting capabilities and thus low ad relevancy. Over time, some ad networks started standing out for broader reach and more advanced targeting. Then, Google came along with the acquisition of doubleclick and used its scale to turn display into a more accurate platform for contextual advertising with the Google Display Network (GDN) and AdX, the doubleclick ad exchange.


In 2007 Facebook started offering advertisers for the first time access to audiences of people based on their real life profile: age, gender, connections, interests, workplace, marital status and more. With those rapid advances, the world of RTB has begun to develop, ad exchanges have evolved and an entire ecosystem has flourished with increasingly sophisticated technologies and platforms. Retargeting in particular became a major channel.

And nowadays we’re on the verge of a new era in display –  true audience-based advertising.

Audience Targeting- minions

Minions (just like us humans) may seem similar, but each has its own interests, motivations and personal characteristics…

The Anonymous Web is Fading Away

The web began as a collection of informational websites accessed by random browsers. Http Cookies allowed some customization of the user experience, but it was generally limited in scope and duration. Then came services like Facebook and Gmail. People would create a personal profile and keep using these services as they are logged in to their account. The major shift has begun from an anonymous to the ‘people’s’ web.

Fast forward to present day, and the web has transformed into a largely transactional medium. When buying, comparing, socializing, booking, …etc.  users are incentivized to use a slew of online services – all while logged in to their account. The web is moving from browser sessions to actual users that are interacting with websites and web services. “Display advertising” was coined in early days to describe ads that are simply displayed on websites, mostly to random browsers (it’s a simplification of course, just for the sake of making a point). However, audience advertising is about targeting ads to actual people – people that belong to a certain logical business group.

Audience based advertising

How is your target audience behaving online?

Welcome to Audience Based Advertising

Behavioral Targeting

Behavioral, or audience-based advertising is aimed at segmenting web users into groups or buckets, broken down by one or more of the following:

  • Their stage in the conversion cycle (or stage in the client lifecycle in a broader outlook)
  • Their inferred motivation for purchasing
  • Their intent as reflected by their search queries
  • Their location, age, role, …etc

The idea is to target a user based on their behavior on your site (and offsite to a certain extent). You segment users into “personas” and customize their whole experience with your brand (ad, website content,…etc) to match their profile and place in the journey.

The end result of executing such a strategy properly, will likely be increased traffic, conversions and ROAS, as well as improved user satisfaction and enhanced brand image.

Tag Management and Data Connectivity is Key

So what held (and is still holding in many cases) these advancements so far? The answer is technical. To implement these ideas it takes maximum control and flexibility in managing your web assets directly by the marketing team. Only recently, with the proliferation of tools such as Google Tag Manager and other tag management tools, as well as integration of custom audiences from Google Analytics to AdWords – is this turning into a reality. As long as any tracking event required IT involvement, audience advertising at scale was impractical.


Say you are the marketing manager of, a company offering a freemium product for building great looking websites. For simplicity let’s say you identified 5 main audiences that you want to convert:

  1. People who just started looking for a solution.
  2. People who search with purchase intent keywords (example: “prices of website creators”).
  3. People who created a free website but never actually populated it with content.
  4. People who created a free website, populated it but not actively using it (no traffic to the site).
  5. People who created a free website, populated it and actively using it, but never upgraded.

It makes sense to define different marketing goals for each audience and to customize their experience accordingly. Basically, you want to advance each group one step further in the purchase funnel. So in effect you would deliver completely different marketing messages to people in groups 1 or 2 than to people in group 5. For group 1, you would focus on encouraging them to create their first site on wix: “free and easy”; “5 minutes and you have your own website”.  For group 5 – you would focus your messages on the benefits of upgrading to a premium account: “get rid of ads”, “claim your own top level domain”, and other features available only with a premium account… so the advertising to these different audiences should be completely different in every aspect: ads, bids, landing pages,…etc.

In Summary

To sum it up, today, as an online marketer, you should care more about audience-based advertising than about “display” advertising. If you’re running on display, you should ask yourself why you’re not running on specific audiences, and work to that effect.

Postscript: Amir will address the topic of Audience Based Remarking at the 2015 Finance Magnates’ London Summit where he has been invited to present on November 3rd. You can also meet Amir and Seperia’s representatives at our exhibitor’s booth during the summit.

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