Free To A Good Home: Impressions

Why don’t site publishers give their impressions away. Crazy ? Like a fox.

Lester Wunderman, the man who almost single-handedly created the direct marketing business (and who created Wunderman Cato Johnson, the world’s largest direct marketing agency), tells a great story in his book Being Direct.

One of his early breakthrough clients, back in the ’40s, was a company that sold roses for people’s gardens through mail order. An annual business, it planted rose bushes two years out, then sold all its plants in the spring.

Early on, Lester asked them what the company did with the plants it didn’t sell. The answer came: “We burn them.”

That’s exactly what airlines (and conference companies like mine) do with unsold seats. After the flight lands (or after the conference is over), we burn all the empty seats.

That’s also what web sites do with unsold impressions at the end of the month. They burn them.

Lester went after the problem head-on — he started giving the roses away. You’ll have to read the book to learn all the ways he made money at it; suffice to say that every “bill me later” subscription promotion you receive is based on what Lester did back then.

How do the airlines deal with empty seats? They try to sell them cheap at the last minute, of course. But if a seat’s empty when the plane takes off, they give that seat away to their customers. Can you recollect a flight attendant telling you that you couldn’t use the empty seats next to you? Would that be stupid? You bet.

So when web sites are burning upwards of 75 percent of their impressions (Yahoo sold 14 percent of its inventory last July for an effective CPM of $4.36), why don’t they let their customers use those impressions instead?

One site where we advertise (sorry, I’m not telling you media buyers which one!) does exactly this. Any unsold impressions go to their existing pool of advertisers. So they over-deliver in a huge way every month. They’re our top-delivering site, both in quantity and cost-per-objective, hands down. Every month.

And each month, for the last 2 1/2 years, we’ve been sending them a check. Every single month. And the checks keep getting bigger. And we make damn sure they get there on time.

So hey there site publishers: Cop a clue! If you’ve got unused impressions, give them to your advertisers. It lets you hold the line on CPM (you don’t want Andy Bourland dissing you because you aren’t holding up your end for the industry!), while giving advertisers impressions at what is — let’s face it — fair market value.

And if an advertiser wants to try your site for free for a month to see if it works for them, a sensible response is, “Sure!” Or maybe, “Please do!”

If you start selling out your inventory (more power to you), raise your CPM, and the whole thing keeps rolling. As Guy Kawasaki said in (The Macintosh Way), “Under-promise and over-deliver.”

And best of all, you won’t have to put up with the stink of all those burning impressions.

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