The Advertising Piggyback Strategy

Yahoo’s launch this week of a new ad campaign made headlines. The campaign, launched on Yahoo Video and to be followed by TV spots, takes a humorous look at life with and without Yahoo. It’s paired with a Dunkin’ Donuts offer for a coupon good for only one day. The Yahoo campaign follows a still-running campaign by Ask.com, and past ad campaigns from MSN. And after AOL’s finished reorganizing, I’m guessing it’ll launch a yet another campaign, too.

Though these campaigns’ primary aim is to build awareness and attract new users, I couldn’t help but wonder how agencies thought these types of campaigns would affect their advertisers. Do large publisher or portal ad campaigns rally new interest in sites, or drive interest for sites the advertiser may not otherwise consider? Do agencies intentionally try to take advantage of the piggybacking strategy, buying in so they can leverage the visibility and increased traffic to the advertised site? How well does this piggybacking tactic work? What ought to be avoided?

The simple answer: it depends. In general, piggybacking can be a smart way to ensure just a little more bang for your buck, especially if the buy was already part of the intended media plan. A lot of a piggybacking strategy success depends on the actual ad campaign. Is it a good one? Will it actually motivate new users? What kind of reaction does it stimulate?

Of course, there’s some risk in buying into a campaign that hasn’t yet debuted if you’re counting on the campaign alone to generate user impressions. For example, there was something creepy about the humans-dressed-as-butterflies MSN ad campaign. I wouldn’t have wanted my advertisers associated with it.

After all, advertising people are consumers too. We can be just as affected (positively or negatively) by the same campaigns we may consider buying professionally. I’m sure we’ve all heard from the client who says, “Hey, I just saw that such-and-such ad. Are you guys planning on putting that site into my campaign?”

Yahoo spokesperson Meagan Busath says Yahoo always has a secondary ambition of attracting new advertisers when it launches campaigns. How does the rest of the industry view this piggybacking tactic?

“For the most part, the advertising industry doesn’t practice what it preaches (or sells) enough,” chides Scott Symonds, VP and executive media director for Agency.com. “If Yahoo, or any publisher, runs a campaign that offers compelling data, case studies, or testimonials from industry notables, why shouldn’t it have the possibility of creating interest for the uninitiated or increasing spend from current but tentative advertisers? Recent online ads I’ve noticed serve as a reminder of the many resources Yahoo has to offer for client campaigns.”

Omar Tawakol, CMO of Revenue Science, agrees that “the more valuable the [advertised site’s] brand is in the consumers’ minds, the more value it will have for advertisers who want to be associated with it.”

Symonds also reminds us, “Clients do like advertising with Web sites that demonstrate the financial viability, commitment to audience building, and self-investment that running an ad campaign suggests.”

Dave Morgan, chairman of Tacoda, seconds this notion. Advertisers “like to be working with folks with momentum. Running trade campaigns signify momentum, if done well,” said Morgan. He adds that advertisers also embrace piggyback advertising because they have a tendency to join the parade: “They like to jump on bandwagons sometimes.”

But there are cautionary aspects to consider. Piggybacking strategies “involve lots of ego,” warns Morgan. “Leave that behind and look for tangible results.”

Another thoughtful consideration according to Symonds is “the advertised site could potentially be diluting their established demo-/psychographic user profile by bringing in new users through the campaign.”

Brian Lesser, director of product marketing at 24/7 Real Media, feels publisher ad campaigns shouldn’t be all about the consumer. “Media owners need to consider whether their message is consistent and will resonate with their advertisers.”

I agree. Just as a campaign might appeal or entertain consumers, it might also offend or concern advertisers. Publishers could better capitalize on piggyback strategies by giving agencies a peek under the hood before launching their ad campaigns. Additional advertiser dollars may come more readily.

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