Commentary

Your Work Will Be Harder for Being Online (But it Builds Character)

In a fit of lucidity, Jim Meskauskas gave some great reasons as to why the strange upfront manner of purchasing broadcast media harms advertising clients and functions mainly as a device to produce less work for lazy agencies through the acceptance of artificially high costs for their clients.

But at least in the traditional media, the fact that the media is bought months in advance does not spoil its effectiveness. In the online media, such long lead-times of media purchasing would render ineffective one of our greatest assets: our ability to iterate campaigns based on observed results.

Of course, in cable television, there isn’t much data coming back against which you can optimize a campaign – presuming stodgy agencies were capable of doing so. In the online arena, however, the rich performance data is one of the main advantages that make online advertising worth considering.

We take that data and modify our campaigns in an effort to learn the real market dynamics and take advantage of the eddies and currents of the consumer slipstream. Agencies not saddled with prima donna creatives may even adapt the creative messages to further take advantage of initial learnings.

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Unless, of course, the agency bought the media several months ago – in which case the client is stuck in the rut they bought in the upfront.

For clients that know for certain that certain inventory is going to perform well with particular creative, this isn’t a problem. But even for the most experienced of online advertising clients, this situation accounts for only a small portion of its buys.

Buying traditional media is an act, an event. It’s like a single basketball game where the coach isn’t allowed to switch out any players. Purchasing online media is a process of perfecting. It’s more akin to an entire season of games, where the coach switches out players at will. An upfront buy, of course, would almost guarantee a losing record.

The analogy is apt because of the competitive nature of the environment. In point of fact, the success of an online campaign has a whole heck of a lot to do with the actions of an advertiser’s competitors. Promotional offers, competitive placements and relevant clutter all radically affect an online campaign. Even if a client can say with unalloyed certitude that last month’s campaign could not have benefited from tweaks, it still cannot make that assurance for the next month’s.

For the online industry to slip into an upfront-oriented buying structure would be to abdicate our greatest assets in return for the convenience of media supervisors. It’s a bad trade.

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