Navigating Around Icebergs: How Elemental Data Charts A Better Course For Display Advertising

Icebergs are deceptive. Their icy peaks jut out of frigid waters, revealing only a fraction of their volume. What appears to be a small, confined piece of floating ice that can easily be navigated around might very well turn out to be a massive barrier below the surface.


Image credit:

Perils Of Segment-Based RTB

Segment-based, real-time bidding for display advertising is sort of like an iceberg. It looks really cool, but can obscure the real picture.

The promise of better performance through programmatic marketing is a little bit of a no-brainer. It doesn’t really take a rocket scientist to figure out that optimizing campaigns one-impression-at-a-time on actual consumer behavior is better than delivering campaign impressions in bulk.

There’s just one issue. When campaigns use pre-packaged audience segments, the advertisers have to hope that the audience bundled into each segment is optimal across all inventory, creative, day parts, ad positions and the like.

They can try to chart the optimal course for the campaign — but without understanding how each element of audience data is performing, they are just seeing the tip of the iceberg.

Audience Segment Visibility

Regardless of how “micro” the segment gets, a display impression targeted against an opaque audience segment always has limited visibility “below the surface” of the water. Because advertisers aren’t able to see what specific action (such as term searched, page visited, product purchased in an offline store, etc.) caused the prospect to be put in a black box, they have no idea if the answer to “Why did that work?” is two clicks prior or two fathoms deep. All they can see is the data on the surface.

You only have to think about the RMS Titanic to see where this story is headed. Even the largest, newest, allegedly unsinkable ship can fall prey to an iceberg. And even the most technologically-advanced, algorithmically-awesome, programmatic marketing campaign built on pre-packaged audience segments can only offer as much insight as the data it has at its disposal.

If you start making strategic marketing decisions about your audience based only on what you see above the surface, you’re likely not getting the most out of your media budget. The data above the surface might be dead on. Or it could be misleading. And if you’re using look-alike targeting based on fixed audience segments to extend reach, you might be creating a high-performing campaign or you might be rearranging the deck chairs. If you don’t have visibility into your segments, you’ll really never know.

Elemental Data & Audience Reach

Enter unstructured, or elemental, data. When direct audience data is leveraged at its most elemental level, two things happen:

  1. You can see the whole iceberg — everything above the surface and below it. With elemental data, you can create a more holistic picture of what that successful impression — the one that turned into a sale or other conversion — looked like, allowing you to optimize your campaign for high performance and more reliable insights.
  2. You can be confident your lookalikes actually look like your most successful impression, allowing you to extend reach in the most cost-effective manner possible.

But why stop there? Driving transparency into every aspect of RTB is required to maintain the credibility of display advertising to the C-suite at big brands.

Unstructured Data = Transparency & Better Performance

The rise of bots and the specter of click fraud have many advertisers concerned about campaign successes that seem too good to be true. Complete domain transparency allows advertisers to see which sites might be generating suspicious activity. Complete pricing transparency assures advertisers that their budgets aren’t funding fraud.

And complete data transparency, like that delivered with elemental data, enables advertisers to understand precisely which actions are generating suspicious activity, eliminating them from the campaign.

While it’s tempting to accept campaign performance as the only standard for demand-side platform (DSP) or programmatic marketing platform (PMP) vendor evaluation, transparency opens the door for a true partnership between agencies, brands and networks and their platform vendors. Why settle for meeting the goal when you could be gaining insights that allow you to exceed it?

True transparency, powered by unstructured data and the promise of individually relevant, fluid audiences, has the potential to set a better course for the entire industry. Programmatic marketing is a titanic opportunity for savvy marketers; whereas, relying on prepackaged, opaque audience segments is no way to navigate campaigns through treacherous waters.

Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Marketing Land.

Related Topics: Display Advertising | Display Advertising Column | Display Advertising: Programmatic Media Buying | Retargeting & Remarketing


About The Author: is the Chief Revenue Officer for, a company quickly being recognized as the authority in search retargeting. Since the mid 90’s James has been involved in leading companies who are paving new paths in digital space.

Sign Up To Get This Newsletter Via Email:  


Other ways to share:

Read before commenting! We welcome constructive comments and allow any that meet our common sense criteria. This means being respectful and polite to others. It means providing helpful information that contributes to a story or discussion. It means leaving links only that substantially add further to a discussion. Comments using foul language, being disrespectful to others or otherwise violating what we believe are common sense standards of discussion will be deleted. You can read more about our comments policy here.

Comments are closed.


Get Our News, Everywhere!

Daily Email:

Follow Marketing Land on Twitter @marketingland Like Marketing Land on Facebook Follow Marketing Land on Google+ Subscribe to Our Feed! Join our LinkedIn Group Check out our Tumblr! See us on Pinterest


Click to watch SMX conference video

Join us at one of our SMX or MarTech events:

United States


Australia & China

Learn more about: SMX | MarTech

Free Daily Marketing News!

Marketing Day is a once-per-day newsletter update - sign up below and get the news delivered to you!