Advertising Money Can’t Buy

It never seems to fail. You’re brainstorming advertising ideas for a client and a site comes to mind that would be an absolutely perfect fit. It matches your audience’s target demographic to a T. The only problem is it’s not a site on which you can buy advertising. Whether it’s an e-commerce site, a brochure piece for a service company, or an online manufacturer’s catalog, if its revenue isn’t derived from selling ads you typically can’t buy ad space on this kind of site. Having people click away from the site as the result of an ad is the last thing a site like this wants to have happen.


Are these sites completely out of our reach? Of course not, but getting in front of a site’s audience won’t happen the traditional online media buying way.

Let’s back up for a moment and define the specific kind of non-purchasable advertising I’m talking about. The simplest scenario is getting your advertiser’s ad placed on a Web site’s confirmation page. Most of us have seen this: We’ve gone through a purchase transaction or an online registration. After completing it, we’re taken to a thank-you page. It contains some sort of detail about your submitted action, but it also has a banner, button, or promotion for another company.

Though this kind of ad placement can be purchased, often it’s not. Instead, advertisers may agree to swap ad placements on one another’s sites. Or the site featuring the ad may even be an affiliate of the site advertised. But if I’m a media buyer representing my advertising client and I think site A would be a powerhouse placement for my client, why wouldn’t I do whatever I can to get it on that site?

Many companies avoid this kind of ad-swapping or co-marketing placement. “We don’t want to water down our brand,” they’ll say. Or, “We don’t want to clutter our Web site and offend our purchasers.”

Can you blame them?

How does one approach an e-commerce or service site that doesn’t sell advertising and try to negotiate a placement? It’s all about WIIFM: what’s in it for me?

The most important thing to remember is sites like this one don’t need your ad, so your approach can’t be about (or only about) dollars. These sites are interested in added value, the promise of improving their reach to their target audience, or some other distinct reason for them to share their Web page space with another company’s ad.

For starters, it’s a great way for two sites to leverage each other’s traffic with almost zero out-of-pocket costs. Co-marketed email accomplishes the same goal. And playing on the incentive concepts we see so often in traditional marketing, ideas such as sponsoring contests or providing manufacturer rebates or discount coupons fit nicely without a site having to worry about diluting its brand.

These types of no-cost ad placements are definitely out there. They could be pursued with greater vigor if non-advertising sites warmed up to the idea more and saw the potential rewards for doing so.

There’s another party to concern ourselves with: the agency. How does an agency generate its revenue from such efforts, so different from the typical ad-buying model? Who should be responsible for negotiating such opportunities? If you don’t think it’s an appropriate task for the media buyer, you may want to read my previous column about the media buyer’s role in strategy.

There’s a single, clear-cut answer: the larger the agency, the more likely there may be an assigned role such as strategic partner development. More often than not, it falls into no one’s lap in particular, especially since this kind of negotiation isn’t an easy money maker. Sure, it’s great for the two advertising parties, but it’s likely not going to reward the agency that sought out and negotiated the opportunity as much as an advertising buy would.

I view this kind of non-purchased advertising as part of the bigger picture: helping a client achieve its goals. If you’re good enough at doing that, most reasonable clients will find a way to make it worth your while.

Meet Hollis at Search Engine Strategies in New York City, February 27-March 2.

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