Meeting Impossible Client Demands & The CPA

CLIENT: Our objective is to sign up one-billion people who ride purple unicorns for our promotion. We'd like to entice them with a chance to win a year's supply of salt-licks and alfalfa.

ACCOUNT PERSON: Okay... Sounds good. I think we can come up with some good ideas for you.

MEDIA PERSON: Umm... excuse me, but, there are no such things as unicorns, let alone purple ones.

[Evil look from ACCOUNT PERSON shot at MEDIA PERSON]

CLIENT: Surely, you are mistaken. The folks upstairs requested that we build a database of purple unicorn owners and I met with a media vendor who assured me that they could get us at least 75% of our goal at just a nickel each. I told my supervisors that we'd be able to do it.

MEDIA PERSON: But, they don't exist.

CLIENT: My supervisors?

MEDIA PERSON: No, I meant, purple unicorns. You won't come any where close to getting a billion people who ride purple unicorns because they aren't real.



CLIENT: Well, it's too late now [a small bead of sweat makes its way from temple to chin. Raised eye-brows quiver]! Our corporate goals are set. We can't turn this ship around now! Our entire marketing schedule for next year has been designed around a billion-name purple-unicorn-riding database.

ACCOUNT PERSON: Not to worry, Mr. Client. We'll get it done for you. We'll talk to the media vendor you met with and see about doing a huge CPA buy, that way, you will ONLY be paying for those people who ride purple unicorns.

So your client and your agency have stuck you with an impossible goal based on a fantastic assumption. And when faced with the specter of failure due to a global dearth of purple unicorns, the proffered panacea to the client's fear was the CPA buy.

Ah, yes, the CPA buy. There are plenty of you out there who have either bought or sold on CPA. It is the twinkle in every client's eye; it is the bane of every publisher's sales opportunity.

Cost per acquisition media buying does have its time and place, but those times are not 'always' and those places are not particularly savory. More often than not the media offered up for a CPA opportunity is not something most clients would want their brand affiliated with. It is usually more like the Golden Helmet of Mambrino than it is the gold nugget found at Sutter's Mill.

Yet more often than not, in spite of warnings from the media persons working the account, clients will want pursuit of the impossible. They will want on the one hand their ads running on only the most desirable sites, yet they will want to pay the media vendor only pennies for an acquisition. When you tell them that such a marriage is made only in hell, they refuse to hear you. Or, worse, they agree, but insist you go forth and find their purple unicorns anyway. These are often the same advertisers that say they are a brand advertiser, not a direct response advertiser.

CPA can work wonders for certain advertisers. Depending on the product, the offer, and what constitutes an acquisition, this is a buying strategy that can benefit both publisher and client. But there are some products and services that simply do not benefit from this strategy. If you are tasked with something as impossible as finding purple unicorn riders, you are confronted with many chimera and their chicaneries. Lots of CPA networks are composed of just that. Realize that the only way to be convinced that you can reach into the bottom of the barrel and pull up anything other than a mealy apple is if you believe you can to begin with. This, unfortunately, is rare.

If you absolutely positively have to go out and buy on a ridiculous CPA, understand the following:

  1. Any decent publisher, if they take the deal, is going to put your ads at the very end of the server queue and you will likely be perennially preempted, preventing you from ever reaching your volume goal.
  2. Many CPA networks are loose collections of volunteer sites that accept ads from a variety of sources that will draw their ads from whichever broker is offering the highest CPA. If you go into market with one bounty rate paid to one broker and then go back into the market with a higher bounty rate paid to another broker, the sites that were drawing from the first one will flock instead to the second.
  3. CPA pricing is invariably tied to promotions. The quality of the leads generated are nearly always more questionable than any you will garner through the CPM route. Yes, you may have gotten a lead for a buck, but what is the life-time value of that customer versus a lead that cost you 5 bucks and came from a tier-one publisher?

ACCOUNT PERSON: So, here is a picture we were going to use for the creative. See that purple unicorn there? I think that looks terrific.

CLIENT: What? That's a pony painted purple with a traffic cone strapped to its head.

ACCOUNT PERSON: What ever do you mean?

CLIENT: Silly... don't you know purple unicorns don't exist?

[MEDIA PERSON leans back in chair and rolls eyes.]

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