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The Inevitable Underdelivery Problem

  |  October 11, 2001   |  Comments

As we head into the critical holiday season -- when underdelivery can mean the difference between making sales goals and falling short -- preventing problems is key.

Most media buyers would agree that obtaining rock-bottom ad pricing is at the top of their list of priorities when it comes to servicing a client. The negotiation process can be lengthy and frustrating, but negotiating and shopping for pricing is responsible for maximizing ad exposure and reach. Negotiations can often cut rate-card prices right in half.

Let's say you've just signed a few terrific deals that should maximize your ad budget (or your client's). You are very excited about the spend and confident that it will yield above-average results. Creatives have all been sent to the publishers and are scheduled to go live on the first of the month -- plenty of time for everything to be set up and tested.

For some unknown reason, a couple of the placements do not go live for a few days, and the overall delivery of the campaign is 30 percent behind schedule. To a large advertiser, this is not the end of the world, since the ads can spill over into another month's run if need be. But consider an advertiser with a smaller budget or one with a very small window of opportunity to turn sales.

When a site underdelivers ad impressions, traffic, or acquisitions, it can often be worked out fairly easily with publishers. However, let's look at a few scenarios where delivery during a given time frame is critical.

Consider an e-tailer whose make-or-break time frame is the six weeks leading up to Christmas. Imagine an advertiser running a two-week promotion prior to Valentine's Day or a travel-booking portal that needs to bring in sales in the late part of the third quarter through the early fourth quarter because that's when the majority of travelers are booking their holiday plans. These are classic cases in which a timely delivery counts for everything, and underdelivery really hurts (yet happens so often).

It is wasteful to advertise during periods that do not yield strong conversions; thus, makeup delivery is not always enough to compensate for the exposure lost during peak periods. Underdelivery still remains a common problem in online media, as all buys need to be overseen regularly and problems need to be attended to immediately.

Negotiating a great price for a buy is great, but a bargain's not a bargain if the ads aren't delivered on schedule. Getting a bargain on online media is not the same as getting a good deal on a tangible item that is guaranteed by its physical presence. Vendors continue to overestimate what they can realistically deliver and often create difficult situations.

How should a poorly delivered campaign be handled? As mentioned before, bonus deliveries are not always good enough. There is no way to compensate an advertiser with a brief advertising period for a missing delivery. Prevention is often the best case in these scenarios, since publishers that continue to deliver well are those that continue selling their inventories.

It is particularly difficult for publishers offering performance-based deals to guarantee delivery within a specified time frame because it is so hard to make a user click or perform some other desired action (unless an incentive is involved). A good way to deal with these publishers is to set aside a large portion of your budget with a cap (maximum spend). You agree to pay the publisher a specified cost per acquisition for all conversions up to a fixed amount. Once the period is up, you pay for what was delivered. This is a good way of covering your butt (just hang on to the money that could not be spent for another time), but this also pushes the publisher harder to optimize and deliver on time. Why? Because if the publisher lets the campaign linger for months, he or she loses out.

There are a number of strategies to improve delivery pace, but it never hurts to deal with a publisher that has delivered well in the past. As often happens, relationships are the key to continued success.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Adam Posman

Adam Posman is a strategic planner with BAM Strategy, a leading digital agency with offices in Montreal and Toronto. BAM's core services include strategic planning, media buying, creative production, online contests, email marketing, and customized marketing technologies.

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