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Programmatic Ad Targeting Types: Effective Methods for Audience Targeting

  • Effective methods of programmatic ad targeting include: audience targeting, contextual targeting, behavioral targeting, geotargeting, cross-device targeting and retargeting.
  • By employing programmatic ad targeting, marketers can be sure their budgets are going toward ads delivered only to relevant audiences.
  • With Viant, marketers can create customized audience segments for targeting by leveraging people-based data, not anonymous cookies.

Programmatic ad targeting offers a simple solution: It helps brands reach the right people with the right content. By tapping into consumers’ locations, behaviors and more, ads can reach ideal audiences for maximum engagement.

For example, let’s say your brand sells skincare products that you’re marketing to women in their 20s and 30s. With programmatic ad targeting, you’re able to create a segment of relevant consumers and then funnel your messaging to this specific group and to individuals within that group who are more likely to be in need of your offerings.

Like the example above, programmatic ad targeting types each serve their own purpose. Here are six effective methods for targeting and how they can be used to help create a successful ad campaign.

Audience Targeting

 As one of the most common and frequently used ad targeting types, audience targeting lets businesses serve ads to specific populations based on characteristics such as gender, household income, age, interests and more. Basically, the perfect customer.

A mix of first-party and third-party data is often combined to generate audience lists that advertisers can then buy and serve ads to. This can be useful for businesses that know what type of customer they want to reach but may not know where to look for them.

Learn more about audience segmentation

Contextual Targeting

Contextual targeting looks at exactly that: the context. By using data to determine what types of content appear on the websites people are viewing, contextual targeting allows for relevant ads to appear alongside related articles, often on editorial publishers’ sites.

If you’ve ever read a product review online for, say, headphones, and you’re served an ad for a pair of noise-blocking earbuds while scrolling, that’s likely an example of contextual targeting.

Behavioral Targeting

Behavioral targeting looks at personal behaviors, such as shopping habits, website interactions and product interests. This programmatic ad targeting type dives deep into the individual consumer to target their unique lifestyle.

It takes into account what people do on website pages they visit – or don’t do – such as adding items to a cart, adding items to a cart and then leaving a site without a purchase, making a purchase or sharing a link with others.

Rather than just solving whom ads should go to and where, behavioral targeting takes into account why these ads will matter to consumers.


A recent article by the New York Times found that about 15 million people in the United States use smartphone apps that allow for location tracking. Through geotargeting, a type of location-based targeting, ads can be served to people based on their region or zip code.

For example, an event planning company putting on a local show would want to use geotargeting to serve ads to nearby individuals who are within reasonable distance to attend and purchase tickets.


If you’ve ever browsed the web and were served ads for the same product across different websites, you were looking at a form of retargeting. This approach, which leverages data to serve ads to users who have shown an interest in your brand previously, can be an effective strategy for encouraging consumers to revisit your site or re-engage with your brand.

Retargeting is a way to rekindle consumers’ interest in your brand and encourage them to make further purchases.

Cross-Device Targeting

This highly valuable programmatic ad targeting type gives businesses the opportunity to serve targeted ads across numerous digital devices based on device activity and use.

With more than 275 million smartphone users in the U.S. in 2020, and 74% of adults owning a laptop or desktop in the U.S. in 2019, cross-device targeting lets brands reach consumers from one device to the next. Therefore, a person who is served an ad on their laptop would be served another ad for the same product on their mobile phone.

As an omnichannel DSP, Viant offers marketers the opportunity to deliver relevant messaging to consumers across all of their connected devices. For more information about how Viant can help you reach your advertising goals, reach out to a representative today.


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