ADOTAS – When asked what online publications are the most influential, most mass-market brands would draw upon a smattering of “old media” sites with an established presence and seemingly broad appeal (e.g., The Washington Post, ABC News, etc). While many advertisers would agree with this interpretation of what it means to be an important online publisher, most would be better served by taking an inverse approach to their media planning. They should build the foundation of their plan with highly relevant, emergent media and then throw in a dash of old media for reach.
Let me explain. A list of the most “important” online publishers will be as different as the number of people drawing up such a list. A skateboard-riding, videogame-addled teenage boy in Little Rock would consider Destructoid, Juice Magazine and Lamebook to be far more important than say, The New York Times; while a twenty-something, music obsessed barista in Brooklyn would deem sites like Vice Magazine, TheSixtyOne and American Drink to be the most important sites on the web. A Silicon Valley venture capitalist may consider no list to be complete without VentureBeat, Kiteboarding Magazine and the Flipboard iPhone app; while a new mom in Orlando with interior design ambitions might deem Catalog Living, Divine Caroline and Wedinator as the most significant to her life. You get the idea; there are different lists for different people.
And the list will change as the world changes. For example, a soccer site is a lot less important after the World Cup than it is while the vuvuzelas are in full swarm. A Mad Man blog is most influential in the summer while viewers await Don Draper’s latest profundity. An online book community is most relevant during the summer reading season while an e-commerce site is at its apex in December. The point is that a list of the most important sites on the web is a snapshot in time.
Most site lists don’t take any of this into account. Their criteria are a mix of traffic volume, prestige, share of voice, content quality, overall design and innovation. With a few exceptions, most of the names on those lists are safe, well-known mass-media sites popular among the Wall Street/Capitol Hill corridor crowd.
But not every brand’s message is intended for a Brooks Brothers’ suit. Each audience needs its own list. And that’s exactly why advertisers quickly reach the limit of mass media planning after narrowing down their audience target.
Of course, ad networks and exchanges are in business to make it easy for advertisers to reach their target audience when they’re not surfing with the establishment on old media sites. Horizontal networks cobble together hundreds or thousands of diverse but undistinguished sites. Vertical networks are useful until the targeted audience crosses two vertical interest areas like gaming and extreme sports. Demand side platforms offer a new solution by addressing agencies’ needs to reach deep across a variety of their desired audiences’ sites but force them to manage it themselves.
To deliver a list of the most important sites tailored to each advertiser, you have to first know where those coveted audiences spend their time at that moment. You must be able to identify where influence lives online and be among the first to build relationships with those emerging voices. You have to be flexible enough to make room for new sites as online influence ebbs and flows. Brand safety must be assessed carefully and layering on data can increase efficiency even further.
It isn’t easy to become an expert at handpicking the most important sites on the Internet for each brand and it certainly takes more time than putting together a predictable old media list. Yet the return on investment can be great. The higher the contextual relevance as measured by an affinity index, the better the campaign performance. Being the first brand to support a new, authentic and fast growing publisher can establish credibility with the company that leads to exclusive integration opportunities as that site blossoms.