Advertisers Follow The Digital Bread Crumbs

When marketing Snapple Green Teas last fall, Cadbury Schweppes crafted a media plan that emphasized how they help lower cholesterol and fight cancer. Because of the new drink’s healthy bent, the company geared ads toward young, athletic consumers. Yet after tracking ad clicks during a six-week Web push, an unexpected new audience emerged: electronics shoppers.

So now, as Snapple sets its marketing strategy for 2007, it’s adding magazines and cable shows that cater to gadget fans to its original target audience, according to Matt Straznitskas, group media director at MEC Interaction, the digital media arm of WPP’s Mediaedge:cia, Snapple’s media agency. “It’s real data, not a couple of people in a focus group,” he said. “It’s thousands of people who have clicked.”

For years, it’s been standard to use digital clues left by consumers to refine online messaging, but increasingly that same data is proving useful to offline tactics as well. Snapple is one of several brands including Ford and Pioneer tapping Web user behavior captured through ad clicks, searches and site visits when making offline marketing and product decisions. This is possible thanks to more sophisticated methods for tracking behavior, such as ad networks that collect user statistics, search information from Google and Yahoo, and site use tracked by analytics packages.

Mediaedge:cia, for instance, was able to find new audience segments by running a campaign through Tacoda, an ad network that groups users into behavior categories based on Internet use the company tracks via cookies. By testing ads against different behaviors, Mediaedge:cia was able to discover new audiences for Snapple Green Teas.

Last year, Ford ran a promotion on its site for visitors to configure a car, and then go to a local dealer to test drive the model. While the program was intended to drive leads, it also yielded valuable information about what types of cars interested consumers in different parts of the country, said Gail Ennis, svp of worldwide marketing at Omniture, the Web analytics company Ford uses. The company ended up making certain models available in showrooms in different parts of the country by using the Web as “a real-time focus group to find out what the demand is for what segments,” she said.

Search information is another potential gold mine of insights. The strategic planning group of RPA, Pioneer’s ad agency, taps into search data from Yahoo for new product launches. During the fall, it tracked consumer searches for Blu-ray-related terms via Yahoo’s Buzz Index of search behavior. When interest in the new format peaked in November, it helped inform the timing of the pre-launch print marketing for Pioneer’s Blu-ray player. “We get great real-time visibility into interest levels,” said Mike Margolin, associate media director at RPA.

Yet for most large marketers, despite the talk of integrated marketing, using Web data to influence offline marketing remains a rarity, according to executives. Structural barriers on the client and agency side often separate online and offline campaigns, said Toby Gabriner, CEO of X+1, a New York Web site and media optimization firm. And while the Web gives plenty of immediate insights, print and TV campaigns are hard to alter at the last minute, noted Scott Berg, worldwide media director at HP, which has begun dabbling in using Web insights from search and site visits to inform offline marketing. “We have a long ways to go,” he said. “We’re in the infancy of that in terms of a company and an industry.”