Exploring Experimental Placements

Here’s a scenario that might sound familiar: You’re reviewing a client’s recently executed campaign and decide that the next leg could use a boost — a fresh new placement that will complement existing strategies and garner new attention. An experimental buy is in order.

Immediately, your sales contacts jump at the chance to propose a plethora of exotic placement options that are sure to provide that extra exposure. They may even offer you the rare opportunity to become one of the lucky few to first experience a “groundbreaking” new approach to online advertising that has just become available. Your inner trailblazer is intrigued, and with a few extra dollars to spend you pitch the placement to your client and make a small test buy. As the launch date approaches, you begin to realize you’ve just volunteered to be a test subject in a publisher’s research experiment.

With sites in fierce competition to outshine their rivals by inventing creative new advertising opportunities, this scenario has become quite familiar to most buyers. Publishers are rapidly dreaming up new placement ideas they hope will make their properties more appealing to buyers. Many traditional buyers and clients are hesitant about taking risks with unproven placements, so when someone willing to conduct a trial run with a buy comes along, sellers jump at the chance to peddle their wares… whether or not the concept and system of execution have been finalized.

New Ad Models: Content Integration

One of the most popular new models on the table is content integration. One example is a magazine-style “advertorial”
— a feature or article that is part of the site’s content but covers subject matter directly relating to the sponsor’s product and is branded with the sponsor’s name.

Section menu text links and directory listings are other examples of content integration. The intent with these types of buys is to avoid deliberate promotion. Instead, they attract consumers by appealing to their interest in the content and how the advertiser’s product relates to it.

Some of the placements have branding value, such as the sponsored article, which might include links to the advertiser’s site along with images from it and the company logo. Others are simply designed to generate traffic, such as a text link reading “Quick Family Recipes” and linking to a food retailer’s consumer site.

Navigating Potential Hazards

As useful as these relatively untapped alternatives can be, site publishers’ inexperience with them may represent a minefield of potential problems. When dealing with unconventional placements (if any online placements can actually be considered “conventional”), one issue to consider is whether the site is capable of delivering the necessary campaign data. Some sites are still only able to report on ads delivered via their internal ad management system, meaning that links within content placements might not be trackable. It’s in the publisher’s best interest to find a way to measure your results, as hard data will make the task of selling to future buyers much easier. But to avoid any unpleasant surprises, be sure to confirm you’ll be able to get sufficient stats before making the buy.

When venturing into untested waters, it’s also unlikely that you’ll have access to any case studies from previous advertisers to guide you. Assessing your results to judge the effectiveness of the placement is difficult when you don’t have any statistics with which to compare them. Get all the data you can on site traffic within your section of choice, and estimate the amount of exposure that you can expect to obtain. If you’re sponsoring an advertorial, for example, find out what kind of traffic articles about similar subject matter have received, and use this as a guideline.

In these scenarios, judging ad rates also becomes a challenge. What may seem like a reasonable rate can balloon into a hefty payment when your experimental placement doesn’t deliver (or it can mutate into a great bargain, if you’re really lucky). Many content integration placements are sold on a flat-fee basis, so your best bet here is to compare the cost with that of the placement’s closest advertising equivalent, such as a monthly section sponsorship on a similar site.

Above all, be sure that the site is actually equipped to launch and sustain the placement it’s selling you. Question salespeople on every aspect of the concept, as well as on the method of execution. Outline every possible contingency, and be sure to add protective clauses to your ad contract. Become a well-prepared explorer, and you could help transform an experimental placement into the next big trend.

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