Forbes Dot-Conned

I’m sure you’ll have heard the Forbes.com hoopla by the time this publishes. It’s causing plenty of commotion. On September 5, news hit the wires that Forbes.com (Forbes magazine’s Web site) is “guaranteeing the effectiveness of ads.” The guarantee promises a measure of effectiveness after 60 days of advertising or the advertiser’s money is refunded.

Why now? Why Forbes? This scares the heck out of me. Is this a step toward painting our already battered industry into yet another corner? I thought things were starting to level out. Look at me; I head an online media group. I’m busy as heck. I never saw so many layoffs, reorgs, and general churn. This pledge needs a closer study.

It’s important to look beyond the headline on this one. Forbes was kind enough to provide me with the terms. Here’s how The Forbes.com Brand Increase Guarantee works:

  • Advertise a minimum of $100,000 over 60 days.

  • Forbes.com will measure the impact of your campaign using Dynamic Logic‘s AdIndex Brand Metrics Research.
  • After 60 days and completion of the Dynamic Logic survey, if you don’t see a statistically significant increase in one of four measured brand metrics, Forbes.com will refund your money.

Of course, there are conditions (some valid) to the offer. Many are causing the rumor mill to spin out of control. Email after email has been pushed at me through a couple of members-only lists going off on this. For some reason, a group of people thought the offer applied only to new Forbes.com clients. Well, kids, in their defense, the offer is extended to new and existing clients.

Isn’t this really just a pay-for-performance deal? You give Forbes.com money. If it doesn’t perform, you get your money back. Save your eyes, I read the fine print. The offer does hinge on effectiveness. Let’s put a giant asterisk on this often-misused word. As an advertiser, you do not get to define this metric.

The only thing that makes me comfortable is the fact Dynamic Logic partnered up with Forbes on this. I’m a big fan of Dynamic Logic and strongly believe its metrics are trustworthy and desirable. The four brand metrics Forbes will use are awareness, message association, purchase intent, and brand favorability. They apply to survey respondents exposed a minimum of three times to the advertiser’s message.

Only one of these four metrics must “significantly increase” and Forbes will uphold its end of the deal. And “significantly” is not defined. Obviously, there has to be some lift. Is there a cutoff? In my experience, it’s easy to enhance brand lift. Don’t fall into a trap as a result of this seemingly appealing offer. Here are tidbits you may want to consider prior to signing a Forbes insertion order (IO):

  • For maximum effectiveness, use creative that hasn’t been seen by this audience.

  • Get a fresh, unbiased view regarding the true impact of your creative and message.
  • Consider the cost of developing new concepts and new creative briefs, including execution and production.
  • Remember, the goal is to have respondents see your ad at least three times. Do the math. Will $100,000 cut it, or will you need to spend more?
  • Ask your sales rep to specifically define “significant.”
  • Pay close attention to your IO to make sure details are spelled out in a clear and agreeable manner.

James Spanfeller, president and chief executive at Forbes.com, told The New York Times, “We are putting our money where our mouth is in guaranteeing a return on the advertiser’s investment.” He expects three or four advertisers will take advantage of the offer within a week or so.

To the novice, this appears to be a generous offer from a publisher. The experts are of another opinion. Publishers should make some sort of commitment but not sell themselves short. Why slap more metrics and words all over what should be a common practice? Won’t this put negative pressure on other publishers to perform? Shouldn’t this include a serious commitment from advertisers, too?

Many factors lead to a campaign tanking (or succeeding): creative that doesn’t fit with a site’s content, an “off” strategy, too few impressions purchased… the list is endless.

When I asked Forbes to forward details, its copy read, “You have nothing to lose and everything to gain.” Nothing to lose? How about money, protecting the client’s brand, my reputation, and my job?

Forbes.com’s tagline is “Capitalism in real-time.” Enough said.

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