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Solving Media Buyers' Flat Earth Syndrome

February 27, 2014

By Mike Zacharski, MediaPost

Before humans endeavored to sail around the world and find out otherwise, it was a widely accepted fact that the Earth was flat. At the time, humans didn’t have the multi-dimensional perspective required to understand the complexity of the planet, and importantly, no one had ever gone the distance to see for themselves. In scientific terms, we can only accept as fact concepts that have been proven by empirical evidence.

The same can be said for the online advertising ecosystem. Projections, forecasts, trends and research are extremely valuable to fill the gaps in our knowledge and make educated guesses, but ultimately, marketers will only know for sure what they can measure and see. Operating from an incomplete foundation of knowledge rarely yields ideal results, so why are media buyers content to buy traffic based on a mere slice of all the insight that actually exists?

A media buyer, brand manager or marketer using one trading desk to execute programs only has access to inventory that is available to the DSP or DSPs that the trading desk uses. A single DSP, or even a couple DSPs combined, are still limited in scope because they cannot possibly include all available online traffic and despite the tremendous progress of RTB and not all traffic is available thru programmatic channels. Marketers can only see the traffic that they buy, which can lead to inaccurate assumptions, poor targeting and wasted revenue.

Additionally, when DSPs connect traffic sources they make a lot of decisions based on deals that the trading desks have in place with vendors, as well as a variety of other factors and events that are taking place behind the scenes. The brand manager, however, has no visibility in to any of these back-room deals, and as such, can never be sure that they have a complete picture of who they’re working with and who they are actually reaching and if they are buying all they can of a performing media source. As one might imagine, this makes evaluating campaign performance and implementing necessary changes rather difficult and limiting. Buyers are left with little to do, but up their bids and further compound RTB auctions and as a result are force to balance maximizing their spend (so their company can be paid) with performance for their client.

The current approach and infrastructure has marketers essentially navigating the complex and evolving digital landscape with blinders on. They accept it as true that the Earth is flat because the small portion of Earth they reside on happens to be flat, but of course, they don’t have all the information necessary to know for sure.

To maximize the potential return on their campaigns and initiatives, there is so much that an advertiser should know on the front end — what are the URLs being served to? How is fraud being filtered? Is this the first impression to this user or the 10th on the same site? Is the ad viewable? What is the price of the impression via RTB? can it be purchased thru an alternate channel? What is the value? What creative is performing where?

To give themselves a more holistic view of the ecosystem and their target audiences, marketers and media buyers should employ a more multi-dimensional strategy when it comes to buying traffic. This might mean working with multiple DSPs, buying through private marketplaces, buying from publishers and networks directly and understanding the actual bid landscape and how their platforms of choice access media, among other methods. It is vital that they both demand access to information about all available qualified traffic and take the steps required to obtain it, from as many sources as might be necessary.

It requires a bit of legwork, especially at the beginning as you vet partners and vendors and implement the appropriate support structure and best practices within your organization, but this approach, when coupled with best of breed analytics and measurement strategies, opens up a wealth of possible solutions to issues like broken frequency capping and/or achieving maximum campaign effectiveness and ROI goals.

Gaining a more complete and accurate view of the digital landscape, and then evolving your brand message and value proposition to meet the needs of that market, requires deeper, more thorough exploration of the available information rather than simply accepting what you know based on your limited worldview and going from there. And the cards are not stacked in your favor as each media source is competing hard and spending millions in marketing to have your dollars flow thru their pipes, winning by making it easy for media buyers to live on and accept a flat Earth model.

The ultimate goal should be to establish industry best practices and strategic approaches that offer media buyers a well-rounded view of the online advertising ecosystem, so that campaigns are not executed based on erroneous flat Earth assumptions and can actually drive revenue and growth by answering the demands of the real-world market.

Source

"Solving Media Buyers' Flat Earth Syndrome." Mike Zacharski. MediaPost, 02/27/14.

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