Should I Stay or Should I Go?

  |  September 13, 2006   |  Comments

When do you sever ties with your behavioral-targeted plan?

Expect the best, plan for the worst, and prepare to be surprised." --Denis Waitley, American motivational speaker and author

The plan you've sweated over for months to create is finally approved (after much hesitation and doubt on the part of your client, of course). The plan launches and you postpone your social life to monitor results in what feels like real time.

Doesn't look good. You optimize. No improvement. You optimize more. Nothing. You collapse into your ergonomically uncomfortable chair and think, "Now what?"

The answer may be the dreaded cancellation, although making this decision may require overcoming some psychological hurdles. One of the challenges is the risk of losing credibility with the client. In most cases, you're the one who recommended and defended the strategy. The other challenge is understanding the issues and how to correct them for future programs. The biggest challenge is knowing when it's time to call it quits.

It takes courage to try something new and even more courage to acknowledge a breakdown. There's no shame in taking a break to reassess your plan. In the long run, everyone benefits. If you're indecisive on when to cancel, here are some signs that it's time to take a break.

Communication Breakdown

A communication breakdown can come from several places: agency, publisher, client, and consumer:

  • Agency. The majority of issues will begin before the campaign even launches. The main culprit is poor communication between media and creative. If this is your situation, you're better off waiting until the media and creative strategy are aligned before embarking on behavioral targeting.

    However, let's assume holistic planning took place, but the campaign's underperforming. What may typically have happened is the initial planning took place together, but subsequent optimizations didn't. The media team optimized the frequency, placements, and sites but neglected to evaluate the creative outcome. Or, it did evaluate creative outcome, but the creative team was limited by what it could do, from a knowledge, resource, or financial standpoint. If this is the case, the lesson learned is to budget time, resources, and money for creative optimization. If there's an opportunity to salvage the campaign by reopening the project, do it. If not, reinvest the budget elsewhere.

  • Publisher. In most cases, the honeymoon for the agency and publisher ends once the campaign begins. Performance metrics are the main culprit. Since the Internet is still in its youth, performance accountability is still something publishers struggle with. These days, most publishers will provide click rates, but it pretty much ends there. For behavioral targeting, this creates an even bigger dilemma, because most of the informative data for planning and optimization lies with the publisher. Most publishers won't even track frequency or placements for behavioral campaigns; the planner is left to optimize against a generic run-of-site placement. Publishers must remember their livelihoods depend on successful campaigns. Successful campaigns require evaluation. If a site isn't cooperating by providing metrics, the planner is left with no choice but a cancellation.

    Cancellation is also warranted when a site has continuous technical problems. Don't make your campaign the guinea pig. You can always reinstate the plan once the site's worked out its kinks.

  • Client. Publishers hold a big portion of the data that informs optimization decisions; the other major portion typically comes from the client: sales, leads, site trends, and so forth. Intentions are good at the onset, but obstacles and limitations arise and affect the best of plans. If a client wants to know how its campaign is driving sales, for example, it'll need to permit the agency to track these metrics, then to access those numbers for evaluation. If a campaign was set up with post-click objectives but these metrics aren't available, it's best to put the campaign on hold while objectives are altered (which may mean behavioral targeting isn't the best strategy) or until the right tracking can be instituted.

  • Consumer. Quite simply, if all the correct tracking mechanisms are in place and after countless optimizations consumers still aren't responding, then the best decision may be to cancel and reassess the campaign strategy.

Negative Interpretations

It may also be time to cancel if a campaign is received negatively. Consumers may complain they're being stalked or they feel that their privacy is infringed upon. This may be a result of the messaging, but it may also be a consequence of how the publisher handles its targeting platform. Since there are no hard-and-fast rules about behavioral targeting, it's up to each publisher as to how it handles it. If the majority of feedback coming in is negative, take a break and rethink the plan.

Wasn't Meant to Be

I'm going to sound like my mother here, but sometimes it just isn't mean to be. Behavioral targeting isn't always the right solution, or perhaps it is, but not with the partners that were available. It could be a timing thing. Don't take it personally. Reflect on what happened, think of how you'd do it differently next time, and move on.

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Anna Papadopoulos

Based in New York, Anna Papadopoulos has held several digital media positions and has worked across many sectors including automotive, financial, pharmaceutical, and CPG.

An advocate for creative media thinking and an early digital pioneer, Anna has been a part of several industry firsts, including the first fully integrated campaign and podcast for Volvo and has been a ClickZ contributor since 2005. She began her career as a media negotiator for TBS Media Management, where she bought for media clients such as CVS and RadioShack. Anna earned her bachelor's degree in journalism from St. John's University in New York.

Follow her on Twitter @annapapadopoulo and on LinkedIn.

Anna's ideas and columns represent only her own opinion and not her company's.

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