Only half of UK online ad campaigns targeted at women actually reached them compared to 62% for men according to a new batch of research by Nielsen, which reveals some concerning statistics around the effectiveness ad targeting in the UK.

This discrepancy was even more pronounced when targeting 18-34 year olds, with just 22% successfully hitting women and 33% – men.

The findings came from a survey of 60,000 campaigns across more than 20 countries and various demographics, sectors and devices, which revealed a generally bleak picture across the board when it comes to ads hitting home, with only 54% of ad impressions reaching their intended audiences.

When it comes to sectors, it was retail (42%) and FMCG (43%) that scored the lowest, while travel and business/consumer services were the most likely marketing sectors to reach their audience, both hitting a 67% success rate.

Despite the variants, Nielsen’s UK commercial director Barney Farmer believes online advertising has “plenty of room for improvement”.

“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,” he commented.

Winning on mobile

However, it was found that smartphone ads scored higher when it comes to age and gender breakdowns. Among campaigns targeted at 25-44 year olds, 37% of impressions aimed at women reached them, compared to just 22% for men.

Mobile is taking the world of advertising by storm and the data gathered by Digital Ad Ratings service has shown that the rate of campaigns involving mobile elements more than doubled from 22% to 55% between 2015 and 2016.

Gavin Stirrat, MD at performance tracking solution company Voluum, believes this proportion reflects a shift as advertisers invest in tech that can operate more effectively within mobile.

“Larger audiences are addressable on mobile, and the quality of targeting is superior because mobile provides not just the digital footprints of consumers and their browsing behaviour, but also real-world footprints of consumer’s location,” he explained.

Meanwhile the industry still has “a long way to go”, according to Joy Dean, director of partnerships and platform sales at ad company Widespace, even if the number of mobile campaigns is rising, although she called Nielsen’s mobile findings “encouraging”.

“Often, the issue that faces marketers is to keep your campaign targeting wide enough to ensure the data quality of sites and apps is high. The holy grail is to find those who are interested in your brand or product that may lie slightly outside of the ‘conventional’ audience norms,” she explained, adding that the most effective way to find and target audiences is using high quality, reliable information to pick the right audience and let machine learning understand it to remodel it based on interests and behaviour rather than just demographics.

Why such disparity between mobile and desktop? Stirrat isn’t surprised online advertising on desktop is struggling to bring results.

“This is, at least in part, driven by the rapidly changing behaviour of consumers coupled with the industry’s stubbornness in sticking with desktop-first technologies that struggle to address these audiences on mobile,” he concluded.