New iAd Targeting Tactic Helps Marketers Hunt for Clues About Consumers

200 Million iTunes Accounts and Years of History Help Apple Reach People by Digital-Media Habits

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Hawking minivans? Try targeting ads to Duran Duran or The Cure fans, likely to be young parents in their 30s or early 40s. How about condoms? Look for the folks downloading love songs.

In addition to the usual targeting options of demographics and location, marketers are hunting for clues in what our content habits say about us. And Apple, with its finger on 200 million iTunes accounts, years of download history and a new mobile ad network, is letting marketers target by people's music passions and genre interests for movies, TV and audiobooks, something no other mobile ad network can claim.

Name-that-song app Shazam has matched demographic profiles with music genres.
Name-that-song app Shazam has matched demographic profiles with music genres.

"It certainly shows a lot of promise; when media consumption for songs, movies and TV shows are targeted with ads, there are a lot of inferences potential advertisers could take advantage of," said Phuc Truong, U.S. managing director for Havas Digital mobile agency Mobext.

Apple's iAd targeting is based on anonymous, aggregated iTunes data and proprietary methodology, said an Apple spokesman. While some third-party companies can claim they know what magazine, media and music-consumer segments consume, iTunes knows exactly what's been downloaded. "From a targeting perspective specifically, the value of the data that Apple controls via iTunes certainly differentiates it in the marketplace," said Jaspreet Singh, who leads mobile strategy for SapientNitro.

Apple has begun to carve out profiles for advertisers. To reach executives, for example, Apple suggests targeting business, finance, news and classic-movie lovers. For hybrid electric or electronics brands, Apple steers advertisers toward users with high household income who like alternative music and health-care and fitness apps.

Music targeting is hardly an exact science, but some say it works. Name-that-song app Shazam has matched demographic profiles with music genres and run Trojan ads against love songs. "There are definitely high-quality assumptions that we can make based on music," said Evan Krauss, exec VP-advertising sales for Shazam, which has also targeted love songs for Godiva on Valentine's Day. "But the best indicator is performance, and we do see that this stuff works. There hasn't been an instance where it hasn't."

For an automaker, Shazam presented ads for three different cars based on music tastes: users that used the app to figure out the name of techno or dance songs saw ads for the hip, cool sports car; '80s music listeners saw the minivan; and pop music got the sedan.

Even though Apple's sitting on the motherlode of content-consumption data and a handful of new ad-targeting patents, the master marketer hasn't yet found the holy grail: reaching the right customers at the right time under terms agencies can stomach. In fact, the new targeting hasn't yet gotten off the ground, in part because there's so little iAd inventory out there.

Some agencies that have asked to use the new targeting methods for their clients have been forced to backpedal on those plans, said two people familiar with iAd campaigns. The problem is that when sliced and diced down to a music genre, there simply may not be enough inventory for such a new platform. Inventory for iAd will likely increase as more new iPhones and iPads hit the market. While there are 100 million Apple devices out there, only a fraction run the software that can support iAd, but all devices sold from here on out will.

Apple launched its mobile ad unit last year, after it acquired the mobile ad network Quattro Wireless. The rich-media ads, which look a lot more like apps than the typical mobile creative, launched at a premium: minimum budgets of at least $1 million. After a couple months out, Apple dropped the entry price to $500,000 per campaign to bring in a wider range of advertisers. That's more than double the usual mobile ad budget of $200,000.

The premium pricing, limited targeting and additional constraints, like not being able to cherry-pick the specific apps against which ads will run like one can with other ad networks, have also proven to be points of frustration for mobile-ad buyers. And Apple has been close to vest with data on what demographics use its different devices, even though device targeting is one option for iAd.

"For those brands that haven't been pushing the envelope in digital, it's hard to make [our clients] understand how the economics work," said Sapient's Mr. Singh.

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