Out-of-the-Box Placements

“Hitherto have ye asked nothing in my name: Ask, and ye shall receive, that your joy may be full.” – John 16:24

Though you’ve probably suspected it yourselves for quite some time, and you may have been privy to side-bar conversations at conventions that have made the same point, there’s no denying it any longer: The bulk of online media inventory is boring!

That’s right, boring. Media plan after media plan, buy after buy, on site after site, the same drab inventory is up for sale. It’s ROS (run-of-site), category rotation, topical channel placement, or the ever-popular buttons and text links. And it’s all usually available for desperately negotiable CPMs. If it is a site that finds itself with a glut of unsold inventory, you can get this entire fine run-of-the-mill inventory on a CPC basis.

This isn’t for a lack of trying on the part of publishers. They have demonstrated time and again, that for the right price, they’ll compromise the integrity of their editorial format for a unique size, shape and positioned ad placement.

But rapid growth, a need for standards all advertisers can adhere to easily, and a “sell it fast, sell it all” dictate from within have all contributed to publishers settling on the CASIE standards for ad unit sizes. Then the industry quickly accepted the top of page/above the fold placement of the ad banner.

And sure enough, there was plenty of reason for doing this. Traditional media, too, has some very established standards for placement and specs of advertising.

Newspapers run ad units measured in column inches, and the ads never run on the front page (though some newspapers are considering doing that, which speaks volumes to the disintegration of the church-and-state separation of editorial from advertising that the web itself is responsible for). Magazine ads are traditionally 8 = x 11 inches, or fractions thereof. TV is a standard: 30 seconds and runs at scheduled breaks in programming.

Once these conventions were established, however, it didn’t mean there were any exceptions. You can see it most in print advertising, with odd-sized units or polybagged product samples. But merchandising packages put together by broadcast media vendors are also good examples, like live remotes from a store opening on radio, or a product placement on television (think of televised sporting events for the most obvious demonstration of this).

But why do these kinds of things? Wasn’t standard messaging developed because it works? If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, right?

Well, the standard convention doesn’t always work. That is not a secret. The old saying has always gone that 50 percent of advertising dollars aren’t working; it’s just a matter of knowing what 50 percent. It all comes down to maximizing the effect of media with non-traditional messaging opportunities that have media value and new ways of seeing how it works.

It is no different in the online ad space, only now what has been brought to the equation is causal, rather than correlative, accountability. I know what is working when it is working, and I can affect change almost immediately. I can manipulate my messaging, my creative format, and the vehicles where I place my advertising.

Of course, rich media is usually proffered up as a means by which to improve my online advertising’s results. Let’s face it, though, most sites simply don’t take much in the way of rich media. And what if the option that would do the trick is a new type of placement on an existing vehicle? What if the option that would work best on “site X” for my advertiser would be a 60×468 on the left-hand side of the page?

Now that a couple of years have gone by and click-through rates have gone down (most likely even bottoming out at the 0.4 percent to 0.5 percent currently quoted as the industry average), advertisers are looking for more interesting ways to gain attention and tracking.

The best thing for you to do as a media planner and buyer is to identify which vehicle you are most serious about and then ask if you can do something new. The next time you are on the horn with Viceroy Fizzlebottom, representative from XYX.com with its highly desirable air-breathing demographic, ask for a 250×200 unit in the middle of the front page. You might be surprised by the response.

If it’s a “yes,” you’ll be amazed at just how fun and interesting buying online media suddenly becomes again. You’ll get to work out a pricing structure with the site, new kinds of creative with the creative team, and quite possibly learn to apply a different set of metrics that will lend insight you’ve not had before.

I’ve actually worked on an account where my team worked with a site to create an entirely new content area on a major portal for a client who really wanted to see what would happen with the untested property. It was one of their most successful campaigns.

Certainly, the same process of due diligence should be applied, as is the case with every media buy. But make sure that in this era of “time compression” (thanks, Michael!), you start that process by asking for anything and everything you might want.

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