Ensuring Delivery as Promised

What, if anything, does it mean when a publisher signs a contract with you stating that all buys are “guaranteed”?

In the early days of online advertising, when ad inventory was hardly ever sold out, it generally meant that the publisher was obligated to deliver the contracted levels of ad activity within a given flight date. If the guarantee wasn’t met, generally the publisher ran your ads until it was, plus some extra bonus weight to make you and your client happy.

In those formative days, demand was much lower, and keeping planners happy was of the utmost importance. However, as the demand for online ad space increases (and as ad management systems get better at handling campaigns and minimizing overdelivery), you’re less likely to get the favorable bonus weight one used to get when guarantees weren’t met for a campaign.

Not that serving ads out of flight is okay, but clients used to be ecstatic when I would negotiate double-bonus flights as compensation for shortfalls. That very rarely happens today.

So what do we do in this era of pre-emptability, oversold inventory, crafty adservers and inventory run outside of flight? I think it’s time to spell out for publishers what we’re entitled to when our campaigns don’t serve out, whatever the reason.

“Guaranteed” just isn’t good enough anymore. There are an unlimited number of reasons a sales rep can give as an explanation for why a campaign didn’t deliver to goal. (I’d like to think I’ve heard them all, but more seem to come out of the woodwork every day.) Since most of the reasons I’ve heard have nothing to do with factors a planner can control, I think it’s time we made sure that publishers are contractually bound to deliver what they promise.

No, you probably shouldn’t try to negotiate a contract in which publishers don’t get paid at all if they fail to deliver to guarantee. Let’s be fair. However, we should make sure we’re not rewarding publishers for underdelivery. Here are some common methods:

  • Makegoods run out of flight are worth a fraction of an ad view when counting toward a guarantee. (The fraction is up to you.) This guarantees a healthy incentive to serve ads on time.

  • Publishers get paid based on monthly, weekly, or quarterly contracted levels. For instance, if you contract for 12 million ad views a year, flighted evenly, a publisher wouldn’t get paid for month one until the first million ad views were delivered.
  • Bonus ads are detailed in the contract. To continue the example above, you might want a publisher to agree to serve 250,000 bonus impressions at the end of month one (not at the end of the year) if guarantees are not met.

There are likely a few other methods that can help to get your campaigns to serve to completion. Get creative, but make sure that the deal is fair for everyone.

I don’t think it’s a wise idea for planners to allow shortfalls to continue to occur at an increased pace. And I don’t think we should look to traditional media, in which pre-emptability is commonplace, to provide the model for interactive media. Let’s be sure our clients get what they pay for.

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