MediaMedia BuyingKeep Your Hands Clean

Keep Your Hands Clean

When you're doing business with someone who promises to keep your deal "under the radar," take care that your credibility doesn't get blown out of the sky.

Internet advertising can be a dirty business. Media planners and buyers see some examples of this firsthand: Who among us hasn’t unpleasantly discovered that a site has been delivering fraudulent clicks or encountered a tightfisted client who refuses, on the flimsiest of pretexts, to pay for advertising delivered? But many buyers don’t realize that underhanded business tactics run rampant on the media-selling side as well. Unless we have worked in Internet sales ourselves or are privy to insider information, we may not be aware of the extent to which some sellers will go to make a sale in this cutthroat world. Yet these questionable practices often affect us directly.

One such deceptive practice involves the controversial cost-per-click (CPC) ad placement. Lately it seems as though nearly all clients are demanding that results-oriented CPC ad placements be incorporated into their online campaigns. With so many sites feeling the strain of ad-serving costs, however, securing these placements isn’t always easy. Many publishers would rather let inventory go unsold than risk selling a placement that could receive a low click-through rate, take an extra month to deliver, and end up costing the site a bundle.

But many of these same sites also rely on ad networks to handle their ad sales. And when those networks are also responsible for serving and tracking the ads, it’s a challenge to ensure compliance with the sites’ instructions. Networks have their own agendas, as do network sales reps, whose primary concern is to make sales (by whatever means necessary) and collect those coveted commission checks. So, what happens when a rep has a huge sale all lined up, but the site doesn’t want to comply?

That’s when things can start to get messy. Imagine that you are planning a campaign that involves the renewal of a CPC placement on a site that has always been slow to deliver but produces consistently stellar results for your clients. Some time has passed since your last buy, and your original contact at the ad network representing the site has long since left the company — but you’re put in touch with a new rep who assures you that renewal won’t be a problem. What your rep fails to consider, however, is that the site has recently come under new ownership and, after an extensive analysis of business operations, the new publisher has banned CPC advertising because of the high ad-delivery costs generated by campaigns just like yours.

Knowing that you won’t give in and pay the cost-per-thousand (CPM) ad rate, the rep is at risk of losing a lucrative sale. He does some quick thinking, makes a few calls, and is suddenly assuring you that your campaign will go up. “Look,” he whispers, “the site has agreed to give you a trial run. But if they catch you with a click-through rate below 1 percent (their break-even point), they’ll try to take you down. So here’s what I’m going to do…”

In a manner reminiscent of the most brazen used-car salesman’s approach, your clever rep proceeds to tell you that if you go ahead and make the buy, he’ll keep your campaign “under the radar,” making certain that it doesn’t get pulled before delivery has been completed. Since his network serves all of the site’s ads, this could mean that he’s doing anything from withholding or delaying campaign results from the site publisher to altering click-through rates himself. Either way, you know the site will suffer because of your campaign. But you have more pressing concerns. Your rep may be convinced that his illicit ploy is foolproof, but what if he’s wrong? What if your campaign is pulled midway, and you’re stuck having to explain to your client why you were unable to protect his investment, trying to reassure him that this was an isolated incident — that it does not characterize the online advertising industry as a whole?

If this frightening little scenario comes to mind the next time you make a buy, then it’s served its purpose. Our survival as media buyers depends on our ability to ensure that we (along with our clients) are protected, should the nasty business that goes on behind our backs suddenly go wrong. Like every player in the Internet marketing game, we have to put our own needs first, covering all of our bases when drawing up advertising agreements and placement contracts. We have to be prepared for disaster so that we can rest assured that our clients’ ad dollars are safe… no matter how dirty things may get along the way.

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