The Mystery of a Failing Campaign

Let’s face facts: Every media buyer has worked on a campaign that failed miserably. Even the most knowledgeable and experienced buyers, including those with that uncanny ability to accurately predict a campaign’s outcome before it even starts, have contended with at least one campaign that seemed jinxed from the beginning. When a campaign goes awry with no obvious explanation, no measure of action a buyer can take seems adequate to remedy the situation.

Campaign troubleshooting is a difficult task, especially in an industry as unpredictable as online advertising. Without exploring every factor that could negatively affect your online strategy, how can you possibly know which fix to apply? An investigation into why a campaign isn’t working as it should involves probing every aspect, not just obvious issues. Buyers must consider numerous possibilities, including those beyond their control. Without examining all the forces (internal and external) at play, one can’t be at all certain the media buys are at fault.

Where do you begin on a mission to uncover the mystery of a failing campaign? A sensible starting point is the media placements themselves. Pride can cloud a media buyer’s openness to post-plan evaluation, but even the most diligent buyer makes mistakes. Reviewing the client’s target market and objectives, then comparing these to the final media plan, is a necessary security measure and often reveals clues why the campaign hasn’t produced to par.

If you’ve determined your buys are watertight, consider the possibility of faulty creative. This is especially common when ads are designed and produced by the client, as opposed to the ad production arm of your agency. Many a campaign has fallen victim to a disconnect between ad placements and creative. The message just doesn’t make sense to the audience. Nebulous audience composition data and psychographic information provided by some publishers can facilitate this. But as a campaign goes on and the audience’s habits and interaction methods with your ads becomes clear, a fresh look at the creative is often a helpful step in revealing the flaw in the campaign.

If you’ve established the media buys and creative aren’t to blame, take a look at less obvious culprits. Perhaps the timing of the campaign earmarks it for disaster, or other societal factors are at play. What’s going on in the world during the campaign? Look for anything that could affect results. Have you taken local and international holidays into consideration during planning? Perhaps you sent out a North America-wide email blast on a lesser-known Canadian holiday, when few consumers are in front of their monitors. Each possibility you can eliminate takes you a step closer to determining the cause.

If you’ve addressed all of these issues and still haven’t pinpointed the problem, there’s another possibility. Buyers often get so caught up in planning campaigns that the quality, relevance, and value of the offer are disregarded. Even a flawlessly planned campaign will fail when the promotion is undesirable to the target audience. If you suspect this is the root of the problem, speak with your client. Determine whether you can work with other offers. Use your experience with clients in similar fields to gauge what type of offer would receive the best response rate and make appropriate recommendations. When the success of his campaign hangs in the balance, your client will be open to modifications.

A failing campaign is a huge blow to a media buyer’s ego. An inability to deliver what the client expects is disheartening. There are ways to get to the root of the problem and repair the campaign. Before giving up hope, put on your detective’s hat.

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