You are browsing for lampshades on a department store’s website. You grow bored, and surf across to the website of your favourite daily newspaper. Mysteriously, the lampshades follow you: an advertisement for the same brand appears next to the article you are reading.
Welcome to the world of real-time bidding, says The Economist – a cleverer and nosier way of selling advertising that is beginning to shake up the online media business.
I thought it was purely coincidental that ads seemed to have been following me around on my web travels recently. But it looks like it may have been part of what some advertisers are experimenting with to track web behaviour. As The Economist reports, real-time bidding offers an attractive alternative to advertisers and their use of conventional online display advertising with its hit-and-miss, often duplicative approach:
[…] Real-time bidding helps solve these problems by allowing marketers to buy known audiences. Click to open a web page and an automated auction begins. Firms bid to serve an advertisement, taking into account where it will appear and what they know about the presumed viewer from digital traces he has inadvertently left around the web. The winner serves the advertisement, often customising it—so you may see more ads for convertible cars on a sunny day. The whole process generally takes some 150 milliseconds, or less than half the blink of an eye.
[…] BSkyB, Britain’s biggest pay-TV outfit, has used the technology to reach wealthier viewers who might be more interested in a new channel devoted to well-crafted American dramas. It has also taken aim at people who show an interest in 3-D television. And it has cut down on waste from trying to sell subscriptions to people who already have them. Matthew Turner, Sky’s head of digital marketing, expects half the firm’s online budget to go on real-time bidding within two or three years.
Personally, I see it as quite benign compared to what some businesses get up to with opacity in email marketing. But don’t expect radical change soon, says The Economist, as real-time bidding attracts the attention of regulators and politicians.
Still, as advertisers look to make their budgets provide better ROI, better get used to new ideas and advertising methods appearing on a website (or other favourite online place) near you.