Stop targeting using past consumer behavior. Anticipate their future

Girl looking to the future--origami balloon_croppedTargeted advertising today is largely based on our recent purchases. But does looking to the past make sense?

Tom Goodwin, CEO of London-based Tomorrow Group, doesn’t think so. In an article for Ad Age, he explains why advertisers and consumers must embrace predictive advertising—advertising that anticipates our future behavior.


“There is no time in my life I am less likely to buy some white pants, a toaster or a flight to Los Angeles than after I’ve just bought these items, yet that’s precisely the time I see ads for these products or services,” writes Goodwin.

It’s hard to disagree with him. Though he points out that with advances in technology, retargeting—or targeting advertising based on consumers’ past purchases—will get better, right now it’s largely ineffective in driving purchases.


Search behavior is much more valuable, bringing advertisers to the present—at the beginning of the customer journey. Because of this, Goodwin says it will always have an important role in the advertising mix.

But, the spark has already been lit. Consumers have already decided they want or need something, making it a late opportunity for advertisers to jump in.


So, what’s next? Telling consumers’ what they need and want, before they know it themselves. Enter predictive advertising.

Predictive advertising will anticipate your desires based on your behavior. Like receiving a coupon on your phone for the cafe on the corner while taking a mid-day stroll. As technology becomes increasingly embedded in our daily routines—think Google Glass and Fitbit—the data and avenues available to advertisers will become limitless.

Programs like Google Now and MindMeld that use predictive computing are early examples of future possibilities. Google Now provides users with personalized information delivered without being asked—like the weather and travel routes—based on related search queries. MindMeld is an app that runs during your calls, suggesting relevant articles, photos, etc. that pertain to your conversation. To learn more about predictive computing, check out this NPR blog post.

In order to benefit from this next wave of technology though, consumers must be comfortable sharing personal data with programs and companies. Goodwin recognizes this isn’t an easy ask: “The technology is here, but what’s stopping it is the huge cultural shift that needs to happen that will allow more comfort with sharing information. Predictive advertising comes from trust, and when we accept that privacy is a lost battle and decide to embrace this, then we can get something in return.”

Caroline Cornell

Caroline Cornell

Caroline Cornell is associate editor for IABC’s content department.

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