Resist commoditizing your inventory
At the IAB conference in February, some speakers took direct aim at companies that - in part - provide the "science" behind display advertising. Multiple
speakers argued that, in our industry, too much attention is paid to science at the expense of creativity, or the "art," of advertising. I agree that our industry has made creativity
a sacrificial lamb to metrics, which many equate to profit. But, there is more to this story.
I consider myself an inventory expert. I can say with a great deal of confidence that interactive inventory supply is outstripping demand 10-to-1. This in turn has led many marketers and media buyers to demand better "results," which often equate to the very metrics Wenda Harris Millard railed about in her IAB keynote address. The demand for impressions and clicks has made display, more and more, a direct marketing medium. This has led to what I call the "Christmas Tree" effect on publisher sites: dancing hula girls shilling questionable mortgage packages, and promises (or threats, depending on your perspective) from classmates.com that you were the most popular in high school.
Does this type of inventory provide the best value to either the consumer or marketers? Obviously someone clicks the Christmas Tree ads, but it is unlikely that these clickers constitute what marketers consider "high value" eyeballs. These ads are not brand ads. In actuality, marketers and consumers benefit little from this type of advertising. Most consumers rank Christmas Tree advertorial alongside junk mail and spam - not a connection any serious brand wants.
The OPA recently announced a new set of display ad formats in response to concerns that Christmas Tree ads devalue publisher sites. I agree with the OPA's move and think it addresses some of Millard's concerns. There is no better time to reevaluate every site, page and position within publishing networks and to replace clutter with bigger and better display. We already have far more inventory than we can fill. Why not choose to limit the inventory on your publisher site to one or two large, quality-branded inventory options?
You probably never thought you'd hear an inventory expert say it, but when it comes to providing quality advertising that consumers will respond to, less is more and bigger is better. There are several ways publishers can do just that.
First, evaluate your entire inventory. Determine which products work for you and your marketers. Some easy metrics to track and trend include sell-through rates, eCPM, average CTR and number of ads per page. By trending these factors over a three-month period, publishers should be able to quickly identify the display winners and losers. Products that can automate this audit process now exist, so publishers won't need extra hands.
Next, rethink your inventory layout. Compare the aggregated data from your inventory audit to the environment and location of inventory within every page of your site. Put yourself in the shoes of the brand marketer and consumer. Is this space a consumer would ignore? Is this where marketers would want to promote their brand? If not, rethink the layout of the page, and focus on putting the marketer on equal footing to the page's content.
After you conduct an audit of your entire inventory and weed out the lower brand value and low-performing products, decommission them. If it is broken, get rid of it. Or fix it by combining inventory to create larger display ads that improve creativity and exposure to consumers. By cleaning house you increase performance and enable a better creative experience for the consumer, and better results for your brand marketers.
The brilliant folks in our industry responsible for creating truly great interactive campaigns need a bigger pallet then 728x90. Given the choice, I think most publishers would rather offer inventory that provides value, emotion and experience and delivers real results for our marketers rather than low-quality, high-volume commodities.