Time for Dayparts?

With all of the talk about dayparts these days, you might get the impression you’re missing the latest trend if your messages aren’t timed to appear on Friday afternoons, at lunchtime, or during Internet “primetime.” Then again, if you’ve been in the biz a while, you may wonder what all the hype is about. DoubleClick’s DART ad server, for one, has had daypart targeting capabilities since the late ’90s. Why is this concept so important all of a sudden?

Listen closely. You’ll notice most of the talk about dayparts is coming from publishers. The Online Publishers Association (OPA) and the Newspaper Association of America (NAA) each came out with analyses of how to divide up the day (naturally, they disagree). Research vendors seized the opportunity, too. comScore Media Metrix and Nielsen//NetRatings both — on the same day, no less — announced they’d segment their panel-based audience data by daypart.

Studies on the “at work” online audience abound, with publishers touting the benefits of reaching highly sought after audiences during the day, when they’re mostly unreachable via other media. Ideally (for publishers, anyway) they’d use such data to charge advertisers a premium for exposure during these times. The question for advertisers? Is it worth it?

It’s certainly worth considering dayparts when putting together your online marketing plans, whether you’re doing advertising, email, or search engine marketing. Why? Because you can. The Internet is a real-time instant gratification medium. To take full advantage of its characteristics, you must consider what people are doing, thinking, and feeling when they receive your message, especially when you’re trying to provoke an immediate response.

If you’re not trying to provoke a direct response, dayparting may not be for you. If you buy an ad on, say, The Wall Street Journal Online, you’re likely to reach the same audience at 11 p.m. as you would at 2 p.m. You’re buying on demographics, maybe even targeting within that audience.

Consider dayparts, but keep these points in mind:

  • Web advertising. If you’re trying to reach people when they’re in a certain state of mind, or in the process of making a certain purchase decision, dayparts might be worth considering.

    “The idea with Domino’s [Pizza] is to be out there from 4 p.m. to 9 p.m., just when people are making plans for dinner,” says Roni Jenkins, partner and director of communications strategies at digital@jwt. Jenkins adds her other clients, Tanqueray and Baileys, want to be in front of people on Thursdays and Fridays as they make evening drinking plans. Web sites such as Citysearch would be appropriate for this type of effort.

    One side benefit of daypart advertising, especially where home page takeovers are utilized, is you can take advantage of the Tear Sheet Factor. Advertisers know exactly where and when they can find their ads. They can even show them off to friends and associates.

    “One of the things about having rotation buys is that they don’t ever know where their ads are,” said Brian Quinn, VP and head of Eastern region ad sales at CBS MarketWatch.com, a pioneer in daypart advertising.

  • E-mail. The big question has always been, “What’s the best day to send email marketing messages?” The only valid answer remains, “It depends.” Luckily, one of email’s strengths is it’s eminently testable. You should use time of day and day of week as variables in your tests. It’s too early to offer conventional wisdom on the subject, but try it with your product, your campaign, and your offer.
  • Search. My fellow ClickZ columnist Kevin Lee addresses this beautifully, but I’ll recap here. Look at the results of your paid-search keyword campaigns and segment them by time of day. You may notice certain conversion patterns. Do people who click through between 2 p.m. and 6 p.m. convert at higher rates than those who click between 2 a.m. and 6 a.m.? If they do, you can afford to pay more for clicks during that more lucrative time. Take advantage of this, and get your keywords a higher placement during key times of day.

Remember that the daypart concept can be applied to more than days or times of day. The instant-gratification concept works with weather (think sunny vacation ads during nasty winter storms) or allergy ads during high pollen conditions. Weather.com, for one, targets these types of conditions.

Still, dayparts aren’t for everyone. If you’re grounded in traditional advertising and marketing, you may already know whether dayparts are worth exploring online.

“Most advertisers who take advantage of dayparts, or should, are advertisers who have always taken advantage of dayparts,” says Jason Heller, CEO of Mass Transit Interactive. “But for the majority of advertisers, dayparting doesn’t do much for them.”

Consider that, despite advances in technology, dayparting can be difficult to implement with much precision. The Internet is a global medium — how do you make sure you reach people at their lunchtime? A recent Sun Microsystems campaign that ran on Yahoo, among other places, is an excellent example. I came in at 8 a.m. to find ads trumpeting an event supposedly going on “right now,” according to the creative. Turns out it was taking place at Pacific time and not starting until later in the day, anyway. I don’t know exactly what went wrong, but it highlights the pitfalls and complexities of such an effort.

Unfortunately for dayparting’s online champions, there appears to be little compelling reason to deal with those complexities just yet. With email and search, because of their direct-response nature, rewards (or lack thereof) are easily measured. In online media, I’ve seen no proof dayparting actually works. It makes intuitive sense to advertise Budweiser on a Friday afternoon. Will people go out and buy it after being exposed to an ad?

The only way to find out is to conduct follow-up research. Anyone doing that? I’d love to hear about your dayparting experiences, both good and bad. Until then, have a lovely Friday.

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