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Bringing Ads to the Conversation

BuzzLogic hopes that monitoring online discussion will help advertisers target the right customers.

The era of online advertising has also ushered in an obsession with advertising statistics. Businesses now expect ad networks to precisely target specific types of customer and produce a measurable response. With this obsession in mind, BuzzLogic, an advertising company based in San Francisco, has developed a tool that advertisers can use to follow the flow of conversation across different websites in order to target their advertising accordingly.

Who says?: This dashboard shows advertisers the flow of conversation across multiple blogs.

“It’s an incredibly fragmented media space, and we’re using our technology to try to paint a picture of what’s really going on,” says Rob Crumpler, the company’s president and CEO. “We’re trying to give [our advertisers] some transparency and some ability to identify what the conversation really is.”

Targeted advertising has proved hugely successful for online businesses. Google makes its billions through the AdWords system, which allows advertisers to place their messages alongside search results, blogs entries, or e-mails containing certain keywords. Companies have, however, struggled to find effective ways to use social-media sites like Facebook to serve ads that are targeted to users’ demographics and tastes. BuzzLogic targets ads to particular sites by focusing on social activity that suits a particular ad campaign.

BuzzLogic’s underlying technology combines algorithms that track conversations between sites in the form of blog posts and comments. Crumpler says that this dialogue is relevant to advertisers because people often turn to blogs to help them decide whether to buy a product. In a study done for BuzzLogic by Jupiter Research, users treated referrals from blogs as “on par with a recommendation from a trusted friend,” Crumpler says.

A dashboard developed by BuzzLogic shows advertisers the flow of conversations between blogs by using an analysis of linking patterns. For a given conversation, the dashboard shows blogs represented by dots that vary in size based on the density of discussion on a particular topic taking place there. Color coding also shows which blogs have served the users advertising and which haven’t. And clicking on a blog refocuses the visualization around that particular blog.

Other, more sophisticated functions show, for example, how often users click on an ad mapped against the type of conversation surrounding it. For example, an advertiser can see how well the campaign performs if the surrounding conversation is friendly or hostile. Using the dashboard, advertisers can also identify particular conversations and serve ads against them. Advertisers can see the results of their campaigns in real time and can change which sites serve their ads.

BuzzLogic can place ads with sites directly or through deals with other ad networks such as Google. According to the marketing-research company comScore, BuzzLogic ads reached 33 million unique users in May 2009.

BuzzLogic’s technology analyzes some 12 million sites, Crumpler says. The technology aims to identify the blogs that provide the starting points for a popular conversation and those that are most influential.

Crumpler describes, for example, a campaign for the science-fiction television show Battlestar Galactica that BuzzLogic took on for the New York ad agency 360i to promote the show’s season premiere last January. BuzzLogic used its ad technology to identify conversations about other science-fiction franchises, such as Star Trek, and conversations about the actors appearing in Battlestar Galactica. The company also looked for conversations among fans of the show by looking for frequent use of words such as “cylon.” Crumpler says that 360i reported almost double the response that it had gotten using previous advertising technologies.

BuzzLogic is not the only network to tout the value of targeted advertising through blogs, however. Henry Copeland, founder and CEO of BlogAds, a social-media advertising network founded in 2002, says that his company gives advertisers “a great opportunity to hit various targets, because very often particular blogs have a strongly skewed readership.” Copeland adds that “buying on blogs takes the ‘targeting’ up a level, because not only are you buying a bundle of humans, you’re buying a community–a bunch of folks who not only think alike but are self-aware and often will react to something in concert.”

Marissa Gluck, founder and managing partner of the Los Angeles-based consulting firm Radar Research, says that a tool focused on targeting particular conversations and interests addresses a current hole in the market. “Every marketer is interested in using social media but has no idea how to measure it,” she says.

Gluck warns, however, that such a dashboard would be easy for Google to develop for itself or buy should the current online-advertising giant perceive BuzzLogic’s approach as an important way to target ads.

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