The next time you visit ESPN’s website after a big game concludes, the ads you see will reflect the box score. The self-described “Worldwide Leader in Sports” said Monday it was debuting an advertising product called LiveConnect, which changes the tone and content of advertisements based not just on the outcome of a game, but on who ESPN thinks is looking at the page at that moment.
For example, the LiveConnect ads shown Friday to happy Cleveland Cavaliers fans will look different from the ads shown to despondent Toronto Raptors fans — Cleveland crushed Toronto for a second time during the NBA’s Eastern Conference Finals on Thursday night — and fans not invested in the outcome will see a third kind of LiveConnect ad.
All three spots, however, will be promoting the same product. ESPN works with advertisers, which so far have included insurance, beverage and entertainment brands to tweak the look, feel and copy of the spots to reflect the mindset those fans might be in.
While ESPN is still testing and learning with LiveConnect, having completed just a few campaigns and with a dozen more in the pipeline, it’s already proved very effective. ESPN says LiveConnect ads specifically targeted at fans of winning and losing teams are two to three times more effective than normal display ads. The company is also experimenting with ads tied to more specific occurrences, like a game going into overtime or a team hitting a specific milestone.
While these kinds of spots aren’t yet spread across every inch of ESPN’s digital presence, they’re still part of a growing trend among digital publishers, who want to be able to tell advertisers not only that they have the audiences those advertisers want, but that they know what they are thinking, feeling or doing right at that very minute.
“Emotion matters,” ESPN’s executive vice president of global sales Eric Johnson told International Business Times. “We’re just marrying messaging with the moment.”
ESPN draws on a wealth of signals to figure out where its readers’ allegiances lie. In some cases, it doesn’t have to guess — registered ESPN.com users will often designate their favorite teams, and ESPN can tell when they’re logged in, across devices — but when it has to, it draws on data like a visitor’s location, gender and other insights it gets from BlueKai, an Oracle-owned company that analyzes internet browsing and behavior to guess at what kind of person you are.
At the moment, this technology applies only to the ads shown on ESPN’s written content, but it’s coming to video, too. Video ads, both the ones that run before stand-alone clips and those shown during live streams, will be ready by the time football season rolls around, Johnson said. Even without the video, the ads will hit a lot of different eyeballs: ESPN’s websites now reach more than 83 million people every month, according to comScore.
Whether this crosses the line from relevant to creepy will largely rest on ESPN’s shoulders, and the company has said it is still figuring out what works and what doesn’t with LiveConnect. “We’re openly saying, ‘We’re going to learn together,’ ” Johnson said of his conversations with advertising partners.
But even with ESPN on the learning curve, partners say they want a piece of what it’s selling. “The anticipation has been tremendous,” Johnson said.