Flighting: What to Ask for in Your Next RFP

When I first started in advertising, one of my duties was as an assistant planner on three brands for Nestle Beverage: Hills Bros. Coffee, MJB, and Carnation Hot Cocoa.

These three traditional brands were subjected to the well-established rigors of traditional media. Using proprietary and syndicated research, it was the planning team’s job to first identify the target customers, their demographics, their general attitudes and proclivities, and the activities they participated in.

Once the target customers were well defined, it was then our task to determine media usage. Did these customers read magazines? Did they watch TV? Did they listen to the radio?

Again, we’d use syndicated research (namely resources like Simmons and MRI) to identify the best media for reaching the prospective customers. After all, it really doesn’t matter how great the creative is if the right people aren’t there to see it!

Once all that was done, it then became necessary to drill down into the selected media and try to find out more about how each medium was used by the prospective customers. If it was television, what programs were these customers watching? If it was radio, what sorts of formats were these customers listening to? Certainly different types of people and people of different age groups watch certain kinds of programs and listen to different things on the radio. I’m sure you’ll agree that if I’m trying to reach a typical grandmother, I’m not likely going to reach her efficiently during “The Simpsons” on TV or through the local punk radio station.

But even with this done, there is still more to take into consideration. Given the objectives of the advertising effort, certain communication delivery goals need to be accounted for. In traditional media this typically translates into specific reach and frequency goals that the media will need to achieve: How many folks do I need to talk to, and how often do I need to be talking to them? But still that’s not all.

If I’m trying to talk to prospective customers about a brand of coffee, when is the best time to do that? In the morning? Noon? Late at night while they’re in bed watching Letterman? And since the product I’m interested in talking to them about is bought at a grocery store, what days are they most likely to be going to the store to shop? Do they get in their cars Monday night to go to the store, or is it more like Friday, before the weekend?

For both the coffee brands and the hot cocoa, it turned out that the mornings were a good time to “discuss” the product with the prospective consumer. And the days of the week these people were most likely to be heading to the stores were Wednesday through Saturday. (By the way, this is true for most packaged-goods advertising.) With regard to the hot cocoa, weather was also a factor people, naturally, were more interested in hot cocoa when it was relatively cold than when it was nice and warm out.

So it was the plans we produced that flighted the media to run during a specific time of day each Wednesday through Saturday. The media was also planned to run at a frequency level deemed appropriate by the communication goals established to achieve the given objective.

Well, boys and girls, the same principles can be applied online. Much of the ad serving technology available can allow for such a wide variety of targeting that ads can be served to a certain demographic on a certain day at a certain time. (Now would be an appropriate time for me to enter into a discussion about profile targeting. It could perhaps be set counter to the kind of targeting I’m addressing here, but I don’t want to do that now because what I’m talking about here is really “flighting,” and I can’t take up THAT much space!)

So, here are the three “whats” to ask for in your next RFP, and their “whys.”

  1. Frequency control: If your interest is the click-through rate, which, in spite of what has been rolling through the industry press (including this very column) is still a majority interest, controlling for frequency is still one of the most important things you can do. Doing my own research using data gathered from several clients I have worked with over time, I’ve found that between 80 and 90 percent of all clicks on ads happen upon the first exposure to an ad unit (banners, mostly). By limiting your frequency to one or two, you will increase the efficiency of your campaign by dropping what are essentially ineffectual impressions. Remember, this just pertains to the strict “click-through,” direct-response objective. Nonimpulse correlative response to advertising is a different, though related, project.

  2. Day-of-week flighting: It will be necessary to first run a test buy or two for your client before figuring out which days are “most active” and appropriate for your client and product. But once you do, this can be another way to increase efficiency of the direct responses you get as well as the possible “relevance quality” of the impression that merely, well… makes an impression and leads to correlative activity.

  3. Time-of-day flighting: Now, there are direct marketers out there who will say, “We’ve been running ads overnight for years, and it’s the greatest thing ever. More efficient, less clutter, the works!” Yeah, well, that’s absolutely true. For TV. Or radio. In broadcast media, inventory is purchased by “daypart,” that is, a certain time block during a 24-hour period. Overnight dayparts (which are not even measured by ratings) are much less expensive than, say, prime time (8 p.m. to 11 p.m.) dayparts. But on the web, I’m paying the same price for inventory whether it’s 4 p.m. or 4 a.m. Again, as with day-of-week flighting, I can improve the efficiency of all impressions run, regardless of the direct response or the correlative action instigated.

So here you are, a few tricks brought over from the “old world” that might just make the “new world” a better place to live.

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