Q&A: Catherine Spurway-Hepler, SVP of strategy and marketing, PointRoll

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Catherine Spurway-Hepler
Catherine Spurway-Hepler

As SVP of strategy and marketing at rich media technology firm PointRoll, Catherine Spurway says that she's often asked about the challenges facing display advertisers. Direct Marketing News caught up with the former Exelon marketing manager and Denison University graduate to discuss how marketers are combating “banner blindness” and cooperating with increased regulatory scrutiny.

Direct Marketing News (DMN): What are the changes you're seeing with display ads?

Catherine Spurway-Hepler (PointRoll): What we're seeing is the connection between art and science and the importance of that connection. Display advertising...started more brand-focused. [It was] about creative and engaging folks and getting them involved in the conversation. That's where things like expandable ads and rich media came from.

I'd say in the last five years or so, it's become a lot more about targeting and utilizing data to get the right message to the right user at the right time. It presents a tremendous opportunity for both direct response advertisers and brand advertisers to make the most out of every media dollar that they're spending and make an impression.

But the pendulum has shifted a little too much. It has become a lot more about data, and we as an industry are sacrificing creative. We're forgetting the importance of marrying data with creative. I could target you based on your interests; I could retarget you based on an experience you had on my site, but if I find you and I don't present you with anything that's of interest or engaging to you, that's a lost opportunity. So I think what's critically important for the industry.

DMN: How are display advertisers dealing with “banner blindess”?

Spurway-Hepler: I think a lot of [overcoming that challenge] is creating relevance. If you create something that's relevant to the user, it could be relevant to the material that they're reading, a lot of contextual targeting. If you're reading an article on retargeting for example, and you were to see an ad unit that said “Download this whitepaper on retargeting,” you in the context of your experience are going to be interested in downloading that whitepaper. 

It could be creating relevance through geography. If I am on AutoTrader.com and I'm in the market for a vehicle. I know I want to get a Ford and I'm reading a Consumer Reports rating of the new Ford Escape and I see an ad next to it that says 1.99% APR at your local Ford dealer, that's much more relevant to my experience. I think that's one way to overcome that banner blindness is the relevance, but it's also creative. If I'm able to catch your attention with something that's meaningful and engaging, you're much more likely to interact, and that's what we see with rich media.

Pointroll was built on the foundation that no one goes online to look at advertising, but if you make it engaging, relevant and interactive, you will have a much higher success rate. About 6% of people interact with a Pointroll ad. If I hover over the ad, I'm expanding it and can interact with it, or I can simply move my mouse off and stop interacting with it. So it's up to me. I think the clickthrough is the biggest challenge. Users don't want to click through unless there's a great payoff at the other end.

DMN: Recently there's been a couple bills introduced in Congress that examine targeting and the related privacy concerns, particularly around the third parties involved in display ads. What challenges does that attention present display advertisers, and how are they making sure to employ best practices?

Spurway-Hepler: The question I get constantly from advertisers and agencies is “What should I be doing?” The challenge now is not only education for consumers on what's really happening and the benefits or the opportunities for them to opt-out, but also for advertisers to understand what they really need to do or want to do for their brand. The [online behavioral advertising] compliance movement is something that we've been involved with and working the three primary online behavioral advertising compliance providers—Evidon, TRUSTe and DoubleVerify. What the industry is saying is let's self-regulate, let's put in the parameters that help educate consumers but also give them an opportunity to opt-out.

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