Digital Essays 2020: Aim to please, by Choueiri Group’s Kishore Pandurangan

Choueiri Group measurement lead Kishore Pandurangan examines how to achieve on-target delivery in a hyper-complex digital world.

While digital ad spending occupies a lion’s share of global ad spend, according to Emarketer, the Covid-19 pandemic has hit the global advertising industry hard, with companies worldwide slashing marketing budgets amid deteriorating economic conditions. Ahead of the recovery expected in 2021, marketers are asking themselves how to do more with less money, resources, and time.

According to Nielsen, nearly 40 per cent of online ad impressions miss their target demography. As impressions make way for a rise in audience-based buys, agencies and brands are discussing the need for more effective and robust tools to verify their audiences.

With the risks of off-target delivery consuming ad spend, reducing return on ad spend (ROAS), skewing performance data and damaging brands, agencies have to safeguard their campaigns to make sure they get exactly what they pay for.


In a world of limited third-party verifiers, Nielsen’s Digital Ad Ratings (DAR) leads the pack. Powered by large consumer data sets and high-quality panels, DAR is often referred to as an industry standard for digital audience measurement.

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It helps measure, optimise and improve the reach of digital ad campaigns by providing advertisers with a comprehensive, next-day view of an ad’s audience across digital platforms without any personally identifiable information (PII).


DAR still presents a number of challenges for advertisers, agencies and publishers, especially within the region.

  1. UAE ONLY: While DAR does have a global presence, within the MENA region it is only available in
    the UAE.
  2. LOW TRANSFERENCE: Given the stark differences in demographic makeup between the UAE and other MENA markets, local findings cannot be extrapolated.
  3. NO REGIONAL BENCHMARKS: Due to the lack of regional benchmarks, the closest available benchmarks are in Europe (e.g. Turkey).


Despite the lack of regional benchmarks, a review of global benchmarks has shown that on-target percentages typically fall in the 50 per cent to 70 per cent range on gender alone, dropping down to 40 per cent to 60 per cent once the age criterion is added. This reflects the unfortunate reality of today’s market, where the odds of an ad impression hitting a target are little better than a coin toss.

With limited access to user demographics and a lack of user login data, digital publishers are facing a growing dilemma as they struggle to build accurate user demographics at scale. Moreover, as the third-party cookie crumbles, marketers, agencies and media owners alike are scrambling to find alternative ways to measure the effectiveness of their campaigns without losing data.

This brings us to the watering hole where publishers must ask themselves how they can collect, harness and scale-up user demographics.


So, how can we build data in an almost cookie-less world? Publishers must prioritise first-party data and build independently maintained ID graphs and in-house data repositories. Demographic, behavioural, location-based, interest- and response-rate data can then be collected and combined to form audiences and segments.

Here are some ways publishers are enriching user data:

COLLECTION: Encouraging site login through improved authenticated experiences or other consumer-oriented incentives, which helps increase deterministic data and decrease reliance on cookies.

MEASUREMENT & CORRECTION: Verifying the accuracy and authenticity of seed segments to create an effective AI-based lookalike model, as well as using Nielsen DAR or in-house solutions to verify the accuracy of modelled data.

SCALE-UP: Increasing the scale of demographic data by using lookalike modelling to build larger audiences from smaller seed segments. This can be done for any attribute, ranging from age to gender to clickers in a particular campaign.


As third-party cookies meet their demise, premium publishers that have already gathered substantial data on the interests of their users are making the most of this information by building fences around what has become their unique value proposition (UVP).

In addition to generating rich, authenticated and proprietary data, premium publishers have the capabilities of offering powerful contextual targeting, deeply rooted in user interaction with their diverse content environments. While this gives premium publishers an edge, what they own in data quality, they often lack in scale. Therefore, embracing new technologies to scale-up user data is crucial in order to build good quality lookalike models led by good quality seed segments.


With the lack of third-party on-target verification tools and Nielsen’s DAR limitations, the search for alternatives is on.

For media owners, one way to compensate for the lack of demographic verification solutions is to invest in ‘zero-party data’ (data that customers intentionally and proactively share). As opposed to first-party data and implied identity, zero-party data provides organisations with explicit consumer identity and can be used to verify audience seed segments as well as lookalike modelling results.

Zero-party data also aligns with customers’ desires for personalisation, enabling them to make demands from brands in exchange for their personal information.


While new and effective technologies are bound to emerge, deploying existing technologies like those described above can give publishers, agencies and advertisers increased clarity on audience targeting as well as a chance to increase their ROAS.