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Online ad spending has surged in the past decade as brands favour digital advertising over magazines. But new research shows that online ad campaigns may not be as effective as previously thought.

In the UK only half of its digital campaigns targeting women actually reach them, with mobile outperforming desktops in terms of where these ads are read.

The research comes from Nielsen, who studied 60,000 campaigns across more than 20 countries. Nielsen further found that ads targeted toward men had a 62 per cent success hit rate, as opposed to women’s success rate of 12 per cent lower. Overall, only 54 per cent of ad impressions were found to be delivered to the audience they were intended for.

“Online advertising has plenty of room for improvement in hitting advertisers’ desired audiences, particularly women” said Barney Farmer, Nielsen’s UK commercial director. “Various things that can make a difference are better use of the available technology, incorporating wider sources of data, particularly first party data, as well as buyers taking more action on the insights they’ve got from previous campaigns to improve future results.”

Mobile performs better than desktop

The data also showed that a mobile element is now involved in 55 per cent of campaigns, up from 22 per cent. Mobile also performed better than desktop, in terms of successful targeting, having a higher on target hit rate for six of the nine age breakdowns analysed.

In addition, mobile provided one area where advertisers were more successful in targeting women than men. Mobile campaigns aimed at 25-44-year olds had a 37 per cent success rate of targeting women versus just 22 per cent among men.

Overall, Nielsen’s research found that accuracy of targeting varies by sector. Travel and business marketers both had a 67 per cent chance of reaching their desired audience, followed by entertainment at 65 per cent. On the other hand, FMCG only reached the right audience 43 per cent of the time and retail 42 per cent. FMCG did, however, have a hit rate of 52 per cent on mobile versus 42 per cent on desktop – while computers/electronics had a 60 per cent hit rate on mobile, as opposed to 51 per cent on desktop.

According to Tribute Media, reaching customers via digital channels is no mean feat. The question of whom to target, how to target them, and what message to convey can sometimes leave an advertiser with too many questions to handle. As the inherent nature of the online community is to be wary of promotions or messages on the Internet, it makes the task of delivering the communication even more challenging for the online marketer.

About Nielsen, the company provides the advertising industry with measures of who sees advertising campaigns on TV, digital, and across both to understand the true impact and return on investment.