Marketers who combine programmatic media targeting with dynamic creative optimisation (DCO) generally get the best performance, however there’s a problem.

Confusion abounds in the digital advertising ecosystem about who controls what when both strategies are combined.

“This is the result of the many components that make up programmatic advertising campaigns,” says Kelsey Meuse, Global Product Strategist, Sizmek.

“We are talking about two different areas, media and creative, and two separate practices, targeting and optimization.”

Instead she argues, it often helps to first clearly define the terms.

So let’s have a stab at it;

• Media targeting is the practice of controlling and limiting impressions to specific digital audiences.

• Media optimisation is optimising how many impressions to serve each segment, when to serve them, and what the advertiser should bid on them to minimise the average cost per acquisition.

• Creative targeting is controlling which ads are served to each audience; if there’s only one version targeted to each segment, the advertiser has no option for creative optimisation.

• Creative optimisation is for cases where advertisers have more than one creative going to a user segment or audience. Brands and agencies can change the creative through the life a campaign to improve performance.

According to Meuse, many people mistakenly blend these four distinct tactics of targeting and optimisation.

“The practice of serving every consumer within a highly targeted segment the same piece of creative sells short the potential of combining creative and media targeting.”

To tap into the full power of personalising creative advertising, she says marketers should consider the ways in which media and creative targeting work together.


“If a marketer targets a broader audience pool, and then targets the creative to more granular sub-segments of that audience, they can simplify the media buy and be more nimble about which creative is shown to a user within a given impression.”

Done right, this should ultimately reduce campaign trafficking complexity and increase performance, she says.


Take for example a retargeting effort by a luxury retailer. The audience pool is composed only of users who have visited the retailer’s site, but that doesn’t mean that every single one of those consumers should see the same piece of creative. Instead, the retailer can customize the creative on a granular basis, adjusting the message based on how much the consumer has interacted with the site.

Meuse explains that if the user has only been to the homepage, they may see generic deals and offers in the retargeted ad.

“If the consumer spent time within a certain retail category, such as shoes, then the creative targeting can optimise the creative to include shoes. If the consumer spent time looking at a particular shoe, the ad can serve that same shoe. A consumer who abandoned a cart can likewise see the products within that cart.”

In this example, the target audience is the single pool of users who have visited the site. The creative targeting is fluid, and optimises the ad unit each user receives based on behavior exhibited on the site, she says.

“This approach allows the marketer to implement a sophisticated strategy that takes into account the different types of users they are trying to reach. ”

There are also cases where the campaign operates on completely different media sets and strategies.

“Imagine an advertiser is running a campaign but they don’t want to buy impressions for consumers who have already bought their product, and also wants to avoid websites that they deem are unsafe environments for their brand messaging.”

In this case, she argues, the media targeting is focused on limiting the budget and waste, but the criteria don’t cross over to creative targeting in any obvious way – the media plan is only focused on what to avoid, but doesn’t say much about who will see the ads.

This leaves the marketer with a number of options for targeting the creative. They may choose to deliver different creative versions depending on geographic data, demographic profiles, or by ad engagement with previous messages.

“As both of these hypothetical campaigns reach consumers, they’ll return more performance data, which will provide the marketer with even more data points to optimize both the media and creative,” says Meuse.

“The retail campaign may find that shopping cart abandoners are more likely to purchase their full cart within 24 hours, while those who don’t return to the site within the first three days never buy anything from their previous cart.”

In theory all of this data fuels how the advertiser targets the media and creative, allowing them to save on media spend and drive more conversions.

“In that case, they are maximising the combination of media and creative, using insights to refine their strategies across the board to deliver maximum performance.”


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