Display media planning and buying

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cantbuylove_small.jpgADOTAS EXCLUSIVE — A wise man once said “If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always gotten.”

There is likely no single discipline in our industry to which that statement applies more than the current state of display media planning & buying. While our level of sophistication continues to grow at a sometimes mind-boggling pace, we can’t seem to shake the same overall process:

· Analyze target audience

· Develop creative that speaks to the target audience

· Search for outlets in which the target audience engages

· Put media in front of said audience

· Measure success (or failure)

· Rinse & repeat

In a world of three major television networks, this wasn’t so hard. In a world of 300 channels, it was slightly more difficult, but none the less the process ultimately remained the same. Then Al Gore invented the internet and its’ series of tubes; the world went digital and advertisers needed to follow. So what did we do? We took the same process and applied it to the new medium.

The number of advertisers grew steadily, the channels (i.e. ad supported websites), however, grew at an order of magnitude. Hundreds of options became tens of thousands: site direct, site rep firms, vertical ad networks horizontal ad networks with contextual, predictive behavioral and semantic targeting engines, complex exchanges with multiple buying & selling pricing models, short tail networks, long tail performance networks, blogs, blog networks, widgets, apps, social media plays, mobile, video…..it’s a veritable Chinese-menu of audience targeting options that overlap, interweave and interconnect. As companies like Synthasite, Typepad and others create easy-to-use templates that encourage even more users to create ad-supported digital presences, the menu of places to find that audience becomes uncontrollable.

A former boss of mine once said “If you think it’s not working, then break it, because we can rebuild it the right way.”  In this case, the old model isn’t working and the proof is in the data: 60% of all display dollars spent on digital display media in Q1-Q3 2008 were accounted for by 5 media companies, and 75% of display dollars were accounted for by 8.

That leaves 25% of the $9bn spent online for tens of thousands of quality destinations. And guess who goes to those sites? Brand influencers and enthusiasts who are deeply engaged with the content that they are often reacting to or even creating. Yet the same 8 “channels” continue to dominate media plans.

Why?

Because the process is broken. Those top sites have the largest audiences (not necessarily the most ENGAGED audiences), so when we drop those sites into the media planning process I listed above, the “search” results will always default to listing those sites. But if you always do what you’ve always, you’ll always get what you’ve always gotten: marginal brand lift with a significant amount of waste against non-engaged audiences, or just meeting your CPA/CPC goal by running on a semi-blind ad network that will not allow you to know exactly where your brand was appearing.

So what’s an advertiser to do? How can a brand-conscious advertiser be sure that their account team understands how to tie these disparate (yet overlapping) “channels” together in a way that delivers the best message to the best audience in the best environment?

It’s time to reach the rest of the audience that you’re looking for. And the best way to do that is to ask the planning tail to wag the creative dog.  (For the record, it’s just an expression. Creative folks are in no way dogs.)

So what, exactly, does that mean? It means the process should look like this:

· Analyze target audience

· Search for outlets in which the target audience engages

· Develop environment-specific creative that doesn’t just speak to the target audience, but engages with it.

· Put media in front of said audience

· Measure success (or failure)

· Rinse & repeat

Some advertisers do this today, either by pre-flight design or via dynamic creative services offered by several of the large platform providers. However, more agencies and advertisers should consider adopting this methodology for several reasons, the most important of which is better messaging to more responsive audiences.

By emphasizing planning ahead of creative, the mid-tail and long-tail will become more than performance & reach components of the campaign and more value can be derived from an ever-growing supply chain. This means less waste per campaign, more value in relevant advertising to publishers & readers, which will keep audiences coming back, which will cause continued quality content (and clean, well lit environments) beyond just the short tail.

Additionally, planners with deeper understandings of analytics, targeting methodologies and supply-side marketplace dynamics will be better suited to uncover valuable sections of both the mid and long-tail with total control and transparency. Finally, retention will improve. The 24 year old planner who eventually leaves to work in sales or business development will be incented to stay inside that planning group, since that will be where the action is.

Now, some of you may already follow this revised process, but likely only to a point. Once you’ve moved past the “experiential”, branded-engagement portion of the buy, it’s likely that the same few pieces of creative are distributed to portals, endemically-related content sites, social media…etc. By not matching creative with environment for the “long tail” of your buy, you’re simply throwing away the very idea of “right audience, right message” that was applied to the front half of the buy.

As planning leads creative and a conscience effort to dive deeper into the digital sphere to find engaged audiences, planning tools – and the ability to buy multiple, targeted sites without a corresponding linear increase in the number of sales & ad operations groups you’ll deal with – will become integrated components in the agency world. The right message will start reaching influencers, enthusiasts and brand advocates at cost effective prices with total control, eliminating waste and demonstrating to your client that you understand the world in which their customers live – and how to position that brand to the target audience in creative (there’s that word) and new ways.

Plan, find, buy with ease, use the right message.

That feels a lot better, doesn’t it?

— Express your opinion, comment below.

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