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Programmatic Ads Could Do Better At Targeting Travelers Abroad

When we think of lounging on the beach in paradise, we generally want to escape from our screens. But for many travelers, their smartphone is as important as their passport. Whether to do research on local activities, stay in touch with family or simply take and post photos, smartphones are becoming essential devices, no matter where we are.

I recently returned from a trip away in Praia do Forte, Brazil, where I was continually searching for local activities and restaurants on my mobile, using both my limited data plan and local wifi. While surfing for these activities, I was surprised to find that the ads I was seeing were not only unrelated to the activities I was searching for, but were in Portuguese.

I suppose this should not have come to a shock to me because being immersed in a foreign culture is what travel is all about. But this experience really emphasized to me how much I was used to seeing relevant ads that are tailored to my location and search history at home. Working in the ad tech sector, I see the opportunities available to brands and advertisers when it comes to travel and programmatic.

Imagine if an advertiser utilized their data management platform (DMP) to serve me messages not only based on my location but my search history. It could recognize I was a foreign traveler and served me creative ads in English, specifically related to the activities or search terms I was looking for. The audience is there. A 2015 “Connected Traveler” study by TripAdvisor shows that people who use a smartphone to book or plan travel are likely to do the following while on vacation:

  • Get directions / use maps – 81%
  • Look for restaurants – 72%
  • Look for activities – 67%
  • Read reviews – 64%
  • Look for accommodation – 50%

Imagine the benefit of shortening a customer’s journey by showing them personalized ads related to those searches. What’s more, dynamic creative optimization (DCO) allows advertisers to customize their creative to the consumer. In Brazil I was staying near The Tamar Sea Turtle Project, a popular natural turtle aquarium. As an example, digital ads for the attraction could be customized to show you how many miles away you are based on your geolocation.

Other programmatic tactics, such as Weather Sync, could allow a beach club on a rainy day to inform travelers that they have a fully stocked indoor bar. There’s no question that there are still some barriers to making this dream a reality worldwide. For one, adoption of programmatic in some world markets, such as Latin America which accounts for only 5% of worldwide spend, has been slow. In South America television is still the predominant advertising channel, although Brazil represents the largest market for South American programmatic spending, with an estimated total spend of $4 billion in 2015 and a projected total spend of $50 billion in 2018.

The other major issue is affordability. Certainly if you are a large enough advertiser this is possible today, but many of the restaurants and activity companies wouldn’t have the resources or experience to pull it off. The small guys, however, often have existing relationships with hotels and the opportunity to work with them to get their name out in online ads. There also needs to be a solid ad tech structure in place. In order to serve localized ads to foreigners, advertisers must have a DMP, and need to have a DCO partner in place with low latency between that DMP and display partners. After all, if a traveler is searching for restaurants and activities today, it won’t work to serve them ads tomorrow.

Still, the world gets smaller and smaller every day, and programmatic is becoming more accessible all the time. With roaming data plans getting cheaper and free Wi-Fi to be found pretty much everywhere, advertisers need to start working with partners who are able to help them shift their messaging by language and location to meet the needs of the “connected traveler.” Travelers want convenience; target them in the right place at the right time and they’ll thank you for the time saved.