Groupm Search Ceo Chris Copeland On Understanding Relevance In Digital Advertising

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Golf, GroupM, GroupM Search, McDonald's, TheMediaBriefing Experts' Blog, Youth, Google, Advertising, Digital Media

"When I was your age..."

It's a near certainty that every young person has heard someone of a previous generation describe the hardships they experienced when they were of similar age. Often, these conversations centre around what the youth of the day have that the previous generation went without - be it technology, opportunity or roads leading to and from schools that went any direction but uphill.

It is also the basis by which every generation criticises its descendants as being material and wanting instant gratification. The way the adults of today look at their own children and think the same things is the crux of a great challenge of understanding relevancy.

Google has built a multi-billion dollar business on the back of enabling relevant connections between consumers through their expression of intent, and advertisers' response in content. This began as text-to-text, keywords-to-websites and ads associated with those sites.

Now it is a myriad of responses including video, images, news and product SKUs (stock-keeping units), as well as websites. But the fact that there is a direct and immediate response does not mean that the gratification is fulfilled solely in that moment.

The changing nature of relevancy

Relevancy is not exclusive to a current state. My needs at this moment are highly relevant, but they are no more important as my wishes and desires. Anyone who has ever engaged in long-term financial planning knows that there is an aspirational relevance to the process. Retirement is based on a desired future state where the ability to stop working and live a specific lifestyle enters the equation. So, while my aspiration may be to live in a retirement community off the fourth fairway of a golf course, until then it does not mean that certain things are not relevant to me.

In fact, in moments of frustration with work or spare time in planning my upcoming vacation, those items may become more relevant than short-term needs. In these cases, marketers must consider how to appropriately balance immediate with future in their investment strategies.

On the way home from school with my six-year-old last week, she asked me about a billboard she sees every day. It's a beer ad which shows three runners as the primary focus. She asked me what it was and if I had ever bought the product they were selling. The topic soon turns to a billboard for McDonald's and how seeing it might influence future actions. She suggested I might see it and start to tell her and her brother about it without realising they weren't even in the car.

I'm unclear if she believes I'm that forgetful as to start conversations over Happy Meals without either of them present, but I do know that he McDonald's billboard would have little impact on me without them being present. Put us in the car, however, and factor in the moments we are considering where to stop while driving to visit family out of state, those billboards have an immediate relevancy - they have established a framework of relevance for stopping.

Our digital models, especially in search, do a poor job of accounting for the long-term aspirations of the consumer. We are focused on the immediate response, occasionally allowing latency to factor in, but our efforts from measurement to modelling do little to set the stage for what may come, months and even years down the road.

As we get better targeting data it will be interesting to see if search programs can become viable for advertisers to set the stage for moments and phases of life which we have yet to realize. Because while reality may not have hit home quite yet, it is certainly true that we have a relevant connection to be made, if advertisers are willing to make them with us.

Chris Copeland is the CEO of GroupM Search - The Americas, the search marketing specialist division of GroupM, the world's largest media investment management organisation, which is owned by WPP.


Chris drives global search strategy for the organisation and drives the application of search as an integrated channel for GroupM's communications planning agencies and agency clients. Before his current role, Chris was MD of the WPP-owned search marketing agency Outrider.

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