The Network Buy

Teddy Roosevelt once said, as we all know, “Speak softly, but carry a big stick.” That is what a network buy has at the core of its proposition. An aggregate of small to medium sites that each unto themselves may not make very much noise, but can be quite a hefty club if wielded together as one unit.

The promise of the network is that it can collate a wide variety of sites from a myriad of categories and allow the advertiser to reach that same variety with the ease of making a single buy rather than dozens of little buys. This saves time for the agency and gets the advertiser a reasonable amount of unduplicated reach in one fell swoop.

But the network buy also holds the promise of something other than convenience, which, back in the day, was the original value proposition of a network.

Something else a network buy can get you is an opportunity to test the performance of categories of sites, and sites specifically for a given advertiser. And it can be done at low cost relative to “cherry picking” a unique site on which to buy.

This is a great way to get your advertiser out of the gate in the online space for the first time. Your client can get its message in front of a lot of individuals in a lot of different environments at a minimum level of financial exposure.

Given the nature of most online advertiser targets and their primary goal of generating visits to their site, the network buy can best satisfy a low-cost ‘ubiquity’ buy strategy. The broadness of this kind of tack against a target audience, and an objective of generating traffic, can best be met through the use of networks, creating a mass-reach, low cost strategy for an online plan.

Upon the completion of a first-time advertiser’s run with a network, data can be read on the back end to see just which sites, or categories of sites, performed best according to whatever metric is being used to determine success. The planner or buyer can then go back to the networks and negotiate a buy that is more targeted based on those results.

When initially negotiating with a given network, make it clear up front what the objectives are. This gives the networks an opportunity to respond to how a particular buy is performing and make adjustments or recommendations for improvements.

Some networks, such as Flycast, will optimize a campaign halfway through the term of the schedule so as to better click-through performance. Others, like cost-per-click network ValueClick, can preference certain categories over others, given an advertiser’s objective and target.

Also, ask the network how it distributes impressions for a run of network buy versus a run of category buy.

Most networks will not distribute impressions equally throughout all of the properties they represent. Sometimes what the advertiser is getting is remnant inventory from sites that didn’t sell their entire inventory on an individual basis. This could alter performance from buy to buy, depending on which sites had inventory during which buy. Be sure to find out what will be the case for your campaign so that you can manage the client’s expectations accordingly.

For the second go-round, work with the networks like you would with a single site. Be sure the properties or categories you select for a second buy will still satisfy the established metric for success even at the higher CPM or cost-per-click you will undoubtedly have to pay for it.

This is done by first assuming the same rate of response and/or conversion already yielded from the first campaign and then applying the higher pricing to get a new cost factor against which cost-per-action can be calculated.

Keep in mind through all of your planning that not all networks are the same. Some have big-name sites that lend themselves better to branding affiliation and awareness, such as DoubleClick or 24/7.

Others like a BURST! Media aggregate more medium and smaller sites that are better for garnering greater reach through the use of lots of different categories and channels.

Still others offer a bit of both mass reach through the use of a wide variety of sites and the branding affiliation possible through specific, well branded sites, like L90 or AdSmart.

Ad networks have done a good job helping to make online advertising work through innovative technology, working with agencies to construct creative buys, and focusing on the publishers they represent. Networks have established themselves as essential to the online media plan and can be a media planner’s and buyer’s best friend when needing to prove the concept of online advertising to a first-time online advertiser.

So listen up if you hear them calling. They may be speaking softly, but they are probably carrying a big stick.

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