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Advertisers Want Prospects That Act (Not Look) Like Existing Customers

Dave Morgan
Dave Morgan  |  Executive Chairman
Published: Sep. 14, 2022

Previously, I wrote about the fact that lookalike modeling of audiences in digital advertising has gotten out of control. The models are applied so loosely by so many today that everybody ends up being in every lookalike model.

Companies create lookalike models to extend the potential target audience from a small kernel of known customers or audiences into much bigger pools to help marketers get more scale.

Theoretically, the models should be built in such a way that the new, lookalike audiences are as desirable and performant as the audiences they were built from. Or, at the very least, significantly more desirable than general audiences overall.

However, as everyone in the digital ad business knows, lookalikes today are hooey. In a desire to create audiences that are large -- that have high “match rates” and can be acquired cheaply -- suppliers and buyers most often now build lookalikes that look almost nothing alike.

The problem, as media and marketing research legend Bill Harvey told me while discussing the problem over lunch recently, is that what we really want and need are “act-alike” audiences, not lookalikes.

There is a reason that Bill was the wizard behind the invention of the ADI (Area of Dominant Influence) and the notion of media-defined regional marketing areas, which was later copied in the creation of the DMA (Designated Marketing Area). Bill is brilliant and can see directly to the root of a problem, and its solution.

Our industry needs to stop talking about lookalikes, which mean nothing but sound great, and focus on delivering act-alike audiences when we are trying to expand a target audience sample into larger audience delivery that is not only efficient but actually effective for the marketer.

Finding new prospective customers that “act like'' existing customers is what marketers really want when they are defining target audiences for advertising campaigns. That is what we should be finding for them, and that is what we should be held accountable for.

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An earlier version of this blog was originally published by MediaPost.