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Is Your Display Ad Budget Shrinking?

  |  October 6, 2009   |  Comments

Online media planners can still do more with less.

In these economic times, advertisers are trimming costs and looking to tap into the next best thing. Your client might be giving you fewer dollars to work with or demanding shifts in your traditional online advertising budget from display ads to engagement or mobile marketing. Add to this situation the recently updated study from comScore and Starcom USA claiming a 50 percent drop in people who click on display ads, (from 32 percent in July 2007 to 16 percent in March 2009), and your client may be seriously spooked.

So what are you to do with your newly slashed budgets, particularly if social and mobile marketing don't fall into your roles and responsibilities?

First, try to manage client perception. Display advertising isn't only about generating clicks. It's about building awareness and disseminating a message, just like other ad mediums. Also, research from Specific Media and Microsoft has shown that unclicked display ads help lift overall campaign performance, a point relevant for both branding and direct response campaign objectives.

Second, display advertising is still the most readily available form of online advertising. Those of us in online media planning often face the awkward challenge of clients who want to tap into all the consumer usage of our medium but "don't want banners." Despite the bountiful array of advertising options, however, few offer us as much in the way of steady inventory as display ads.

Third, click performance can be improved through targeting, and there are lots of types of targeting from which to choose and blend.

Fourth, in certain circumstances, the media plan can neutralize the concern over click performance through performance-based ad buys: CPC (define) or CPA (define), for example.

Informed by this rebuttal, most clients will acquiesce and agree that display advertising still needs to be part of the media plan, even if it receives a smaller slice of the media budget pie. But how to work display into a media plan under more constrained conditions?


One way to better manage a reduction in your display ad budget is to time your campaign differently. Coordinate with other members of your interactive team and withhold display ad dollars until you give other online initiatives, like search or social engagement marketing, a chance to build a foundation.

Consider waiting 30 to 60 days into the entire online marketing initiative to launch your ad campaign. Monitor your view-through and click-through metrics to help provide a more complete picture of the impact of all the digital initiatives.

Also, encourage the client to let you concentrate your display ad spend in small bursts to get more impressions and visibility during that time, rather than spreading your ad dollars too thin and winding up with erratic impressions, rendering the campaign ineffectual.

Prudent Allocation of Display Dollars

Luckily, my agency is doing more business in online display advertising this year than last. We're attracting companies that never before dabbled in online advertising and are now willing to try. In this recession, companies are still advertising -- it's just where they're advertising that's changing.

These first-timers aren't unsophisticated advertisers, but the Internet advertising medium is still so unfamiliar to them that they often come in with unrealistic expectations or uninformed requests. They typically don't know or understand the various kinds of digital advertising options available, how pricing and minimums work, or what they can expect for their budget.

Some would like a six-month media plan containing the top 250 sites, all with a budget less than $100,000. That simply isn't doable.

At this point, you, the media planner, can either work with the budget and do your best with less, or level the client's expectations that they won't get everything they asked for (i.e., far fewer sites, the kinds of sites, the type of targeting, or the duration of time).

If branding is the campaign's objective, you may want to buy-in big on only a few networks or only do some small network buys to preserve dollars for one to three premier sites. If direct response is the objective, when you have smaller budgets you should really start planning with an eye toward performance-based networks and sites open to these kinds of buys, or home in on very targeted sites or channels appropriate to the targeted consumer.

If you can't buy as many display ads as before, you'll have to work smarter, not harder, to make your reduced budget go farther.

How do high-performance brands achieve branding goals while increasing ROI? Join us on Wednesday, October 7, 2009, at 1 p.m., for a free Webinar to learn how you can add transparent CPL advertising to complement your existing banner and search campaigns, and round out your media plan.

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Hollis Thomases

A ClickZ expert columnist since 2005, Hollis Thomases (@hollisthomases) is president and founder of Maryland-based WebAdvantage.net, an online marketing company that provides results-centric, strategic Internet marketing services, including online media planning, SEO, PPC campaign management, social media marketing, and Internet consulting. Author of Twitter Marketing: An Hour a Day and an award-winning entrepreneur, Hollis is the Maryland 2007 SBA Small Business Person of the Year. Hollis speaks extensively on online marketing, having presented for ClickZ, the American Marketing Association, SES, The Newsletter and Electronic Publishers Association, The Kelsey Group, and the Vocus Worldwide User Forum. WebAdvantage.net's client list has included Nokia USA, Nature Made Vitamins, Johns Hopkins University, ENDO Pharmaceuticals, K'NEX Construction Toys, and Visit Baltimore. The agency was recognized as a "Small Giant" by the Greater Baltimore Tech Council and was chosen as a "Best Place for Business Women to Work" by "Smart Woman Magazine."

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