Targeting Web behavior pays, American Airlines study finds

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A just-completed study of an American Airlines integrated advertising campaign last fall found that online ads delivered through a database-driven behavioral targeting system achieved higher results than any other ad format used.

The campaign, produced by TM Advertising, Dallas, included TV, print, radio, out-of-home messaging and online placements on 14 Web sites. The behavioral-targeting portion of the effort, conducted by Revenue Science, New York, took place on, the Web site of The Wall Street Journal. TM, part of Interpublic Group of Cos., was formerly known as Temerlin McClain.

The objective of the overall campaign was "to remind business travelers that what American Airlines has to offer is still very desirable and relevant to them, while airlines like JetBlue are trying to make people believe that the only thing that matters is price," said Rob Britton, managing director-brand development and advertising, American Airlines.

Readers who frequented travel columns and features such as "Middle Seat," "Desktop Traveler" or "Takeoffs and Landings" were tagged as "travel seekers" and segmented within a Revenue Science database. Once they were identified, they were "followed" around the site and served American Airlines ads, no matter what section of they were reading.

If someone spent time eyeballing a travel article on one occasion, Revenue Science made an educated guess that that person traveled once a year on business. That one flight-a-year site visitor was the airline's target, according to Mr. Britton.

Pinpointing the individual members of that target audience was key. "Then we could determine what degree of lift we could obtain in terms of audience composition," said James Hering, senior VP-director of interactive marketing, TM.

The results of the behavioral targeting were dramatic, according to both American Airlines and TM. Compared with the general, run-of-site Web ads, the behavioral-targeted ads were seen by 115% more business travelers who take one trip a year, the marketer and agency said.

better memories

The rise among those who take five or more trips a year was 145%. "Composition counts," said Omar Tawakol, senior VP-marketing, Revenue Science. "It tells the marketer we delivered the right people." And, the targeted business consumers remembered the message better than others. That group did 3% better than the average in aided brand awareness.

When they were asked about a specific message that plugged American's 3,900 flights a day, there was a 26% rise in message association. Online survey firm Dynamic Logic provided the brand-awareness results, which showed these to be the best-performing ads in the campaign.

Behavioral targeting was cheaper, too, according to TM. Using a cost-per-target metric, Revenue Science found it was 25% cheaper to advertise to once-a-year fliers, and 45% cheaper to reach the five-times-a-year fliers.

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