This where I write a piece in Campaign Magazine about waste in advertising and how targeting niche audiences on billboards is nuts.

advertising for the chairmans wifeShe’s an important stakeholder. We may have never met her. But she’s the one that the marketing department knows is vital to any campaign’s internal success. And the ad agency also makes certain that she’ll readily find appeal in the latest advertising campaign. Often, the media agency will be told to buy the billboard on the main road near her house. Or on her route to work. Or the masthead on her favorite news site. Bought for a month at a time, when available. The point here is that it’s using mass media for niche targeting: that’s advertising for the chairman’s wife. And that’s an age-old phenomenon which is no longer necessary in such expensive volumes.

We all know there is so much media budget being wasted. Every marketer and creative agency has heard a story about their friend’s media agency churning out the same media plan, year-in, year-out, oblivious to client category or objectives. I’m sure it’s not your agency, but the one next door, right?

This presents a clear opportunity, to minimise waste. Yes, the above-the-line campaign will boost awareness and provide a short-term sales spike too, if there’s enough weight to the campaign. But imagine if that billboard on the main road, for hundreds of thousands of dollars, had been spent telling unique stories to data-tailored audience groups? The chairman’s wife might not even see that communication, but the sales teams would see the benefit. And it could be measured closely.

Remember Minority Report, the 2002 Spielberg movie? Tom Cruise’s eyes were recognized as he walked through the shopping mall, and so advertisers targeted him, individually. To hide from the authorities he had to swap his eyeballs, somewhat painfully. Advertisers can target like that now, maybe only online today, but soon on billboards too across this region, rumour has it. Yes, we can use data to tailor different brand messages to different audiences. But, by and large, we’re not.

Elsewhere, advertisers are starting to tailor messages to different audiences. Newly formed digital banks are being smart: it’s not so much about cross-selling any more, it’s simply giving their customers useful new products. Travel brands do this really well too; a simple example is when you visit WEGO.ae or booking.com. Soon after you’ll see their dynamic creative, retargeting banners following you around with that hotel you were just looking at. That’s just the start of niche targeting without much waste. Do you know how else they are monetising their data? It’s fascinating – and perfectly possible to replicate.

I know why we aren’t being smarter across this region. It’s because we’re choosing media channels like it’s 2005. And ten years on, advertising for the chairman’s wife is sometimes important. Like the tail on a dog, it’s arguably a feature we can’t forget. But the tail shouldn’t wag the dog.

This article first appeared in the print edition of Campaign Magazine (Middle East), 18 October 2015.