Lorde’s ‘Royals’ Hit Maybach-Targeting Marketers in the Wallet

Cautionary tale about programmatic

They'll probably never own a Maybach, but that hasn't stopped millennials from being curious about the car brand thanks to it being referenced in "Royals," an infectious tune by New Zealand teen Lorde.

And, that development is significantly driving up the price of digital advertising to consumers who would actually be interested in purchasing one of the luxury vehicles.

According to programmatic media-buying platform ChoiceStream, marketers had to pay as much as 233 percent more than normal in the late months of last year for search and display ads. The pricing trend has continued into 2014, ChoiceStream said. It's a cautionary tale about how pop culture happenstances can wreak havoc on digital ad buys.

"Something relatively niche, relatively high net worth now gets blown up through hundreds of thousands of people who really have no actual intent or financial ability to purchase a Maybach, but wanted to read about it because of the lyrics," Bill Guild, ChoiceStream VP of marketing, told Adweek.

Buyers like ChoiceStream use third-party data from publishers to determine how much they want to pay to advertise to specific brand-interested segments of the population—for example, consumers who might buy Kias or Porsches. Those bids factor into an overall price on an online marketplace. 

Because young adults are a popular group to appeal to, if a brand gets millennials in its mix, the price goes up. They're also tricky consumers.

"They are somewhat hard to find online [for digital advertising] by virtue of their visitation patterns, so these sort of people are expensive to reach," ChoiceStream CEO Eric Bosco explained.

Typically, the cost to advertise to a person who would be interested in buying Ferraris, Bentleys, Maybachs or any similar high-end automobile is about the same. ChoiceStream began to notice in July 2013 that the Maybach segment began to pull ahead of the pack. By December, the price of serving ads to these individuals was, once again, 233 percent above the average cost of advertising to all groups, while other luxury car brands were about 148 percent below the average cost of advertising to all groups.

Delving deeper into the numbers, they realized that Lorde's "Royals"—in which she says "everybody's like Cristal, Maybach, diamonds on your timepiece."—was released in the U.S. during June 2013. Since then, search traffic indicated that more millennials were going online to learn about the car brand, but the tracking data was falsely lumping them in with potential patrons.

Bosco said the problem is that brands like Rolex may feel like Maybach customers are the perfect target, so they're willing to cough up for prime ad placement. However, these companies are actually peddling their products to consumers who can only afford Swatch and Timex. So data is now placing an additional challenge to the industry, and ChoiceStream has built technology to address the situation, he added. It's through that info they noticed the problem in the first place. 

"All of a sudden because of a song, they [brands] are at risk of targeting people who are totally unqualified," Bosco said.