Tracking Granular Campaign Data

There are some very exciting things going on with ad management these days. We’ve covered the advantages of closed-loop reporting and tracking non-click data in this column recently, and when ad management companies debut new and interesting features that help make our ad campaigns more efficient or effective, you’ll hear about it here.

Much of the innovation that has recently taken place has been in the realm of advertiser-side ad management. Now that advertisers want to take advantage of advanced features via their own ad management systems, publishers are going to have to acknowledge this and help advertisers by complying with their need to track data the way they want it tracked.

Part of what motivates an advertiser to use a third-party ad management system is the ability to consolidate reporting quickly and easily. This consolidated campaign reporting is the tool that allows media planners to perform the maintenance portion of their job: campaign optimization.

Optimization only works when planners are able to see their campaign data on a granular level. That is, planners should be able to compare the performance of each ad placement on a given site.

The campaign data resulting from the overall performance of a single site usually doesn’t tell a planner much. However, when drilling down into the performance of a buy, comparing home page placements with category-level page placements will likely give a planner something to work with. If category pages work better than the home page, emphasis should be placed on the category pages.

The example above is actually quite oversimplified. Ad servers can carve up your campaign data in many different ways, thus providing new ways to compare placements. The point is, in order to allow for these comparisons, the publisher must cooperate a bit with the planner to allow this type of tracking.

For example, let’s say you wanted to do a test buy across the business and finance channel on 24/7 Media. In order to find out the best possible venues for future advertising, you need to be able to compare one site in the channel against every other site on your buy (at a minimum).

However, if the business and finance buy was purchased run-of-channel, this presents somewhat of an administrative difficulty for 24/7. On typical run-of-channel buys, 24/7 usually uploads the ad creative into its ad management system and tells the ad server to run the ads in the appropriate channel.

However, for an advertiser to track each individual site in a channel, separate ad tags will have to be generated for each site and placed into 24/7’s ad management system separately. Instead of inputting one set of flight dates, impression levels and creative, 24/7 now has the burden of having to divide the total buy into sub-buys, with different impression levels and creative for each site in the channel. Obviously, this represents a lot more work than a typical run-of-channel buy.

As a planner, your alternative is to utilize 24/7’s tracking system to gauge your campaign’s effectiveness. There are a couple problems associated with that alternative. You lose the ability to run consolidated reports, and you lose any advantages associated with your own ad management system (for example, the ability to implement closed-loop tracking).

Obviously, the ideal solution for the planner is to have 24/7 agree to perform the extra work. However, 24/7 should be compensated for the extra time its traffic staff needs to set up and maintain the campaign. Depending on how negotiations go, you could end up paying a premium for handpicking sites from the channel, as opposed to paying the run-of-channel prices.

This problem gets tougher to deal with as planners get more and more granular with their data. More placements equal more ad tags to upload, equals more work for the publisher. And the problem stems from the fact that large investments have been made in ad management on both the publishing and the advertising side of the business. Unless someone can come up with a technical solution, it is a problem we are going to have to continue to deal with.

So what do we do about this problem? IMHO, advertisers shouldn’t advertise unless they can get the best possible bang for the buck and a clear idea of what works for them and what doesn’t. Publishers should therefore prepare themselves for the extra work that will result from tracking performance on a granular level. They should also decide whether they will be charging premiums for that extra work, and let their advertisers know about any premiums up front.

Of course, if an enterprising company out there wants to work out a technical solution for all of this, it could probably make quite a bit of money selling it to both publishers and advertisers. (Hint, hint.)

Related reading