Targeted advertising set to 'transform' television

With television viewers fast approaching the day when they will receive tailored adverts selected for them according to their viewing habits, post codes and type of household, Laura Desmond is at the forefront of this advertising revolution.

As the global chief executive of Starcom MediaVest Group (SMG) she oversees the second largest media budget in the world (with annual billings of $27,272m) and a client list that includes Procter & Gamble and General Motors. Last month she led SMG's pitch to Microsoft that generated a contract worth more than $1bn.

On a visit to London, she revealed her hopes for a project that will see 10m homes in America receive targeted television advertising this autumn, and said she believed that BSkyB was headed towards offering a similar service to advertising clients in Britain.

Ms Desmond, 46, predicted the development would create a "transformation" in television and significantly reduce the common practice of fast-forwarding through advertisements in recorded programmes. "It stands to reason that when people see ads that are relevant to their lives they are going to watch them and that's good for advertising," she said.

SMG's American project in "addressable advertising" is a partnership with the satellite broadcaster DirecTV and has attracted great interest from some of the world's biggest advertising clients. Microsoft, Coca-Cola, Kraft and Kellogg's are among the companies hoping the initiative will bring a step change in relationships between advertisers and consumers on a mass scale.

"When we are able to do one-to-one communication with the scale and aggregation of television, all of a sudden we become performance marketers in the mass media space," said Ms Desmond. She added that data on consumers was collected from set-top boxes and basic demographic information, including post codes.

"We are doing it all within privacy restrictions," she said, claiming that the experience for viewers would be "seamless and transparent".

Ms Desmond gave the example of a single woman watching a beauty advertisement while a neighbouring family were simultaneously shown commercials for a family motor vehicle. She said the biggest advertisers would soon come to expect "addressability" and more detailed data on the audiences. "The two markets where this will happen first and foremost are the US and the UK," she said.

Ms Desmond identified the merger between NBC-Universal and cable company Comcast as creating the type of media company that "can do what advertisers will want: follow the audiences, track them and then serve content to them".

She highlighted BSkyB as being at the forefront of developing a similar model in the UK, and said the group "has got the best assets and more of the assets."

London is a key hub for SMG and its UK chief executive Stewart Easterbrook drew attention to the significance of BSkyB's recently created joint venture with information services company Experian, which will focus on database marketing. "That's going to allow them to be much more informed at a post code level about who they are broadcasting to," he said.

Mr Easterbrook also speculated that Google, already well-advanced in the field of targeted advertising, would become increasingly important as a producer of content. "Will Google bid for part of the Premier League TV rights when they next come up in the UK? If so, they are an addressability expert but [would] have what we'd consider to be broadcast content," he said.