What Do You Recommend?

Formats and placements. What’s best for the campaign?

It’s a question bound to produce a subjective response, making the answers all the more interesting. A media buyer’s decisions can be guided by any number of factors. With virtually hundreds of placement options to choose from, making the right selections can be a slippery process.

For many of us, pricing plays the largest role in determining which placements and formats we back. Price can even govern the secondary placements we employ.

Regretfully, not all clients have budgets in the millions (though their expectations always seem to be at least that high). It’s up to us to stretch their dollars to the max. In lower-budget scenarios, cost-effective methods of advertising, such as pay-per-search and cost-per-click placements, get the nod.

If the majority of your budget is going to a single site, options expand. You may find your buying strategy is directed by your sales rep. Experienced account managers will offer to create a placement proposal based on your demographic criteria and campaign objectives. They’ll propose a package that includes your desired inventory along with less prominent placements and excess inventory at highly discounted rates (think text links and buttons). If the site is appropriate and the primary placements suit your needs, this kind of offer is too good to pass up. You may never have considered adding old-school buttons to the list of creative sizes, but the potential payoff can make reformatting a banner well worth the trouble.

Sometimes these formats — the ones that normally wouldn’t even make your back-up list — end up generating the best results. I recently launched a small voken ad campaign. The site offered to throw in some button impressions. I couldn’t say no. Those insignificant, freebie buttons are generating an average click-through rate of 4.6 percent. They rocketed the campaign to success.

If price isn’t a prominent issue, perhaps your clients influence your decisions. Stop me if you’ve heard this before:

At the start of the planning process, your client (who has limited experience in online advertising) comes to the table with a slew of preconceived ideas about formats and placements he feels must be included in his campaign. This is probably a result of seeing too many of those eye-popping Pepsi interstitials while browsing Yahoo Like all clients, he wants to know where his ad budget is going. If he’s spending a significant amount on a medium with this much potential for extravaganza, there had better be something impressive to show for it.

Encouraging as it is to see clients enthusiastic about Internet advertising, it can turn media buyers into mediators as we try to strike that delicate balance between what the client wants and what we absolutely need to include to make the campaign a success. We find ourselves combining e-mercials and rich media placements with safer bets like cost-per-click advertising. Our actions are driven by compromise.

Then there are stats! This is where things really get tricky. Hungry for something solid in an intangible online world, many buyers allow facts and figures on the effectiveness of various ad formats to pilot their campaigns.

If you’re developing a strategy based on Internet research alone, you’re in for some trouble. Figures constantly mutate and are often contradictory. Last I read, eMarketer reported the Golden Rule for Branding as the larger the ad the better (large rectangles surpass standard banners in terms of impacting viewers and increasing brand awareness). At the same time, it noted only 17 percent of U.S. consumers have positive feelings about those rectangles. This leaves buyers to choose between increasing brand awareness and irritating consumers.

The best approach is to glean what you can from these reports and combine that knowledge with what you’ve learned planning campaigns. Keep things in perspective. If you’ve advertised on a site in the past and seen large banner placements fail miserably, take a different approach — no matter what the research tells you.

How do you choose your media placements and ad formats? Are you a slave to pricing, do your clients direct your buys, or are you led by a different power altogether? Share your experiences… as one exhausted media buyer to another!

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