Online ads … customized on the fly

Excerpted from the New York Times, “Web Marketing That Hopes to Learn What Attracts a Click”, by Stephanie Clifford, December 3, 2008

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Online advertisers are not lacking in choices: They can display their ads in any color, on any site, with any message, to any audience, with any image.

Now, a new breed of companies is trying to tackle all of those options and determine what ad works for a specific audience. They are creating hundreds of versions of clients’ online ads, changing elements like color, type font, message, and image to see what combination draws clicks on a particular site or from a specific audience.

It is technology that could cause a shift in the advertising world. The creators and designers of ads have long believed that a clever idea or emotional resonance drives an ad’s success. But that argument may be difficult to make when analysis suggests that it is not an ad’s brilliant tagline but its pale-yellow background and sans serif font that attracts customers.

Adisn, based in Long Beach, and Tumri, based in Mountain View, are working both sides of the ad equation. On one, they are trying to figure out who is looking at a page by using a mix of behavioral targeting and content analysis. On the other side, they are assembling an ad on the fly that is meant to appeal to that person.

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Adisn’s approach has been to build a database of related words so it can assess the content of a Web site or blog based on the words on its pages.

Adisn then buys space on Web sites, and uses its information to find an appropriate ad to show visitors to those sites. If a visitor views pages about beaches, weather and Hawaii, it might suggest that the visitor is interested in Hawaiian travel.

Based on that analysis, Adisn’s system pulls different components — actors, fonts, background images — to make an ad. For example, it might show an ad with a blue background, an image of a beach, and a text about tickets to Hawaii.

Simple Green, the cleaning brand, began working with Adisn this year to advertise a new line of products called Simple Green Naturals.

“If it’s a woman looking at a kitchen with a stainless steel refrigerator, they can show a stainless steel product.”

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Tumri’s approach is slightly different. It creates a template for ads, including slots for the message, the color, the image and other elements.

Unlike Adisn, it does not buy ad space, but lets clients choose and buy space on sites themselves. And rather than building a contextual database, Tumri uses whatever targeting approach advertisers are already using, whether it is behavioral or contextual or demographic, and assembles an ad on the fly based on that information.

“It’s reporting back to the advertiser and agency saying, ‘Guess what? The soccer mom in Indiana likes background three, which was pink, likes image four, which was the S.U.V., and likes marketing message 12, about room, safety and comfort.”

Edit by DAF

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