End Cookie-Cutter Media Buys

In the new world of Internet advertising, the name of the game is customization. We’re already seeing it permeate the online experience, as publishers tailor their sites to individuals based on their profiles and behavior, and email marketers personalize their interactions with recipients. With customization as prevalent as it is on the consumer side of the Internet, why is it that Web publishers don’t give media buyers the same special treatment?

You’re probably thinking they do — after all, we media buyers receive “customized” proposals from site representatives every day. But think about what these proposals really offer. While it’s true that account reps labor to come up with media strategies that will theoretically produce the desired results, their limited flexibility with site placement and pricing models generally have them presenting a selection of cookie-cutter ad formats saddled with rate card prices. The formats and placements recommended to us may have been hand picked. But ask a site to relax its pricing structure or stray ever so slightly beyond its listed media services to accommodate a client’s advertising specifications — say, to offer a pay-for-performance pricing model rather than a CPM-based buy — and watch the special service stop short.

Over the years, few sites have gone out of their way to bend the rules for their agency clients. Some have been more accommodating than others when it comes to negotiating media packages, but even those properties haven’t made a point of broadcasting their compliance for fear of being forced to offer lower rates across the board. For the majority of these publishers, customizing an ad package by making pricing model allowances is the exception, not the rule — and that’s the way they intend to keep it.

Unfortunately, this approach doesn’t always fly with media buyers. While publishers have every right to set advertising standards and refuse to comply with our pleas and requests, doing so often forces us to take our business elsewhere. Economic conditions and a variety of other factors have forced many advertisers to cut their media budgets and focus their resources on lead-generation campaigns (who can afford straight branding initiatives anymore, anyway?). That essentially forces buyers to patronize those properties that can stretch the limits.

After years of defiance, some publishers have finally recognized this growing trend and responded by adopting pricing models fundamentally based on the concept of flexibility and customization. Consider a property like The Away Network, a travel-oriented ad network focused on “niche” markets like adventure travel. In addition to its standard ad placements and pricing models, the Away Network these days offers performance-driven programs designed to generate leads, each one customized to meet the needs of advertisers.

How does a network go about customizing an ad campaign? By following classic direct marketing practices, of course. The first step is for the advertiser to set a campaign objective. Once this has been outlined, the network segments its users based on existing profiling data gathered during the user registration process. The network then sends out email marketing messages that cater to these special interests, thus assuring a higher response rate by matching the appropriate ad message with each consumer. The campaign is based on a pay-per-performance pricing model, where the advertiser only pays for the “actions” that site users are performing, i.e. signing up online to receive a print brochure or additional company promotional materials. The same approach can be taken with banner advertising, where ads are placed in various sections throughout the network’s sites, depending on the profile of the typical user. According to the network, the nature of each program all depends on the nature of the advertiser’s offer and how it fits into the site.

Media buyers desperately want this type of ad model, and with good reason. Leveraging consumer information gathered by the network during the user registration process allows such businesses to ensure that their site traffic is highly qualified, while a pay-per-performance pricing model allows them to stretch their ad dollars further. Even in an industry like travel, where the practice of online direct response marketing is nearly non-existent, building relationships with consumers is the key to building business. A pay-per-performance ad model allows advertisers to do just that, without breaking the bank in the process.

Like the Away Network, other online properties, conscious of the media buyer’s plight, have become increasingly willing to stray from convention to customize ad programs for their clients. In these changing times, sites are recognizing that in order to attract advertiser business, a certain degree of flexibility is required. This medium itself allows and encourages it, so why not take advantage of the boundless options that are available and come up with a customized campaign that will be sure to generate leads? The end result is as beneficial to the publisher as the advertiser, and I expect it will only be a matter of time before the rest of the online publishing community recognizes this as well.

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