The future ad placement will be invisible

One of the favourite parts of my job at

iCrossing

is looking at what's new in media and working out how to capitalize on it for our clients and how we remain out in front. What I have seen lately leads me to believe that the need for data will see the creation of the invisible ad placement appearing on media plans. A pixel purely designed for data harvesting.

It used to be very common for a media planner to ask the client for the demographic details of who they are targeting and simply plug this information into something like @plan. Often this would be supplemented with contextual info, i.e. shopping, travel, personal finance, but essentially the profile of the audience was the key criteria.

What about intent?

What about the buying cycle?

What about discussion or debate?

What about interactions between friends?

If a media planner ever comes to you with a plan based solely on demographic, geographic and socio-economic factors then get ready to ask lots of questions as to why they think it's the best use of your money. It has its place, but not like it used to.

Today we know so much more and it should be utilized. To give just one example, my team will commonly utilize the data of who is connected to who on the social sites, tapping into the theory of bird's of a feather flock together. This is data that wasn't available only 12 months ago.

We also use social tools to probe discussion and identify niche sites where decisions are being made based on recommendation. Our results say that is significantly better than demographic profiling.

And now we have the media exchanges.

Arguably the catalyst to a huge media revolution.

A fad and buzz phrase 2 years ago.

The facilitator of so much to come.

As a live transactional platform the exchanges allow us to bid in real time on every impression; sitting in a virtual auction house we can review a visitor's credentials and state our claim to be the ones to show them an ad. This allows for search, site and social retargeting all to exist.

Yahoo's Right Media is certainly transactional, DoubleClick seem to be on the right path, AdEcn we are still waiting. But the era is here. Exchanges allow media to be bought live, the value being set by the purchaser using the data that they have.

To be a shit hot media agency in 3 years time you have to be in the data game. You have to have your own secret sauce that means you make the right decision to raise your hand or not when you are sat in that auction house. Whether you build technology or partner with an existing platform, the decision has to come from somewhere.

So what data should you care about? I am seeing providers over the last few months that are doing every combination you can imagine, often without really knowing why. The consistent fact is no one has all the data, everyone needs to look at 3rd party sources. Combine this fact that we no longer care about aggregate audiences, but instead the individual who is expressing the intent, and we see the dependency on other sites grow.

So that's where the invisible ad unit comes into play. If have a bunch of potential buyers tagged through one partner but want to know which ones are most likely to convert now, I need to know where they are in the conversion funnel. I need to see what they are looking for and what they are being exposed to.

I need data.

So if I am selling the latest gizmo, wouldn't it be valuable for me to know what products they are looking at on a tech blog?

Or what they are bookmarking on Digg?

Or what they bought from Dell or Best Buy in the last 30 days?

I might not want to place the ad on those sites as the context is wrong, but I would happily pay to put my iCrossing pixel on the site to collect the data. Then when I am sat in the auction house wondering if to raise my hand, all I need to check is if they are they flagged with my "about to buy" pixel. If yes, I would pay a nice premium.

And the industry is starting to experiment. Travelocity are arguably the first out of the gate with a public product offering to run a search retargeting campaign out on the exchanges based on searches a visitor to their site did.

Make sure you understand that - Travelocity are not selling a unit on their site. Instead they are using their value as a major travel site and effectively selling that by facilitating a buy elsewhere.

So cool! We will see this more and more in the future, and the potential is huge.

One of my predictions from this is that some sites will make all their revenue from advertising without ever carrying an advert.

Twitter and Facebook, are you listening?