Automated Campaign Optimization

“Half our life is spent trying to find something to do with the time we have rushed through life trying to save.” – Will Rogers

There are countless of you out there who have spent hour upon hour watching your clients’ campaigns: ensuring that all the banners are running correctly, checking that all the linking URLs click through, and ensuring that the third-party ad server – if you employ one – is doing its job of tracking the activity.

All of this, however, is just the beginning. Once the campaign is up and running, the real work begins. In a time of dropping click-through rates (which, though not the best thing upon which to base the success of an online advertising effort, still get preferment among advertisers), it is important to constantly watch the performance of creative and media.

In this era of hyperaccountability and an ever-growing enthusiasm for efficiency, being able to quickly and smartly optimize a campaign based on performance data is more important now than it ever has been before. But the amount of data media buyers and planners now have to sift through to make decisions for optimization is greater than ever before. This makes it more and more difficult to cover the amount of ground necessary so that we can make smarter choices about what to do with an advertiser’s creative and where to place it.

To date, most of this work has been manual. We have planners, buyers, and dedicated trackers looking over campaign data daily to ensure that things are not only working properly, but to see which banners are doing better or worse than others and how we should go about tweaking the rotation and placement in order to yield the greatest results. Sure, third-party ad servers have made our lives easier by giving us centralized ad management and a single-source reporting tool, which can aid us by more quickly informing the decisions we have to make, but it isn’t enough.

The former Flycast, now under the umbrella of Engage Media, claimed optimization of a campaign’s creative over the stable of its sites. And it did a pretty good job. But this was still a manual effort done by a cadre of “media consultants” whose job was to ensure improved performance by limiting rotation to only those sites that were garnering the highest click-through rates. But that’s been the only option – until now.

Enter Paramark. Paramark is a company that develops technologies and services that should help realize what the online advertising environment has been promising for years: quantifiable “womb to tomb” activity data on consumers or potential consumers who have been exposed to your advertising upon which creative optimization can occur automatically.

Hitendra Wadhwa, founder and CEO of Paramark, believes – as many of us in the industry do – that the “Internet is a direct-response-advertiser’s dream. Campaign performance can be measured down to the impression, click, and postclick action levels; campaigns can be changed on the fly; feedback on what’s working and what’s not is very swift; and different individuals or groups can be targeted with different messages.”

The problem, we are all realizing, is that everything is being done manually. We should be able to do this automatically. Paramark has what may be the solution.

AdPilot is its nearly gold product currently being used by NextCard, ExileonSeventh, FCB Worldwide, Mediasmith, Beyond Interactive, OmniSky, and Gatorade. According to Wadhwa, media buyers, planners, and trackers can now “spend [their] valuable time on media strategy and creative design, while the day-to-day mechanics of campaign analysis and optimization are all automated.” This is exactly what we’ve been looking for. The industry has needed to move beyond the commodification of both the inventory and those who jockey it and free us up from being data monkeys.

AdPilot works in conjunction with your third-party ad server. So, for example, if you’re using DoubleClick’s DART and Paramark’s AdPilot, AdPilot will “read” the ad server’s logs and, based on either the rule set you’ve given or against a bar set by its own proprietary system based on a series of algorithms, turn creative on or off for each site and each piece of creative in the campaign, accordingly. I have seen click-through-rate improvement by as much as 50 percent.

Over time, we will see more and more automated optimization as part of the de rigueur offerings of online media tool companies. Wadhwa says, “Automated optimization will broaden in scope, helping you improve the effectiveness of media planning (optimizing the media mix), email campaigns, rich media ad formats (e.g., interactive ads), and postclick real estate like home/landing pages.” He and I have even talked about optimizing creative based on conversion rates rather than click-through rates. It looks to be a reality right on top of us.

As for competitors in this space, they are really in the area of “partial optimization,” like that which the old Flycast does. Advertising.com is said to be readying an application that does the same kind of thing as Paramark, and it is certainly worth giving a try.

To paraphrase something I heard David Butcher, features editor of Revolution magazine, once say over lunch: “Data, data, everywhere, Can someone help me think?” Automated optimization is going to enable the answer to this question because it will give online media planners and buyers the breathing room necessary to get at the bigger picture and be more strategic for their clients.

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