Three Simple Steps You Can Take Today To Improve Media Buying

Every election year, the topic of dirty attack ads comes up. Pundits chastise candidates about the advertisements and everyone agrees that politics would be better if candidates focused on positive messages. Yet negative political ads live on despite the finger-wagging. Why? Because campaigns have looked at the history of attack ads and carefully monitored their results using very sophisticated approaches. And the data shows they work.

Trying to figure out which ads are most effective is not just a goal of political candidates but of marketers as well. Online advertisers, for example, have historically based their media planning on the practice of trying to find the right audiences and measuring some basic performance metrics via clicks, unique visitors, or conversions. But whether marketers are measuring the wrong things or not considering enough factors, media buying has traditionally been based on poor or misleading metrics. 

Take, for example, a theoretical online campaign that promotes shoes using both display media and paid search components. Let’s say that the shoe company discovers a recurring path of events in which a user sees a few display ads, then conducts a search, which leads to a conversion. Many ad-tracking systems would recommend increasing the search budget without recognizing the impact of the display campaign.



Consider another example of a sports-related publisher driving a lot of conversions. A media planner might conclude that sports sites are good targets based on this one piece of information. The truth may be that the sports publisher overdelivered in certain geographic areas, and it was really the geographic differences showing the improvement. Again, a media buyer might try to optimize against the wrong conclusions and not understand why other sports sites are not converting well.

So what metrics do matter when looking to improve your media buying? Here are three steps any marketers can implement today to help improve their media buying strategies.

Frequency Capping

Frequency capping is the practice of limiting the number of times a given individual is exposed to the same message in a given day. In our research on display frequency for clients, we’ve found that showing more than 10 ads has little or no effect on conversions.

This goes against a common logical assumption that more advertising is better. We’ve found the opposite to be true. Data shows that generating more impressions than needed can reduce the likelihood of the person converting, just as political TV ads that bombard an area or robo-calls to the same numbers can turn off the electorate. As a result, media planners should always monitor for optimal daily frequency. We’ve seen significant performance improvements in campaigns by finding the right frequency caps and implementing them. With new frequency capping recommendations for individual retargeting campaigns, we’ve seen savings of 15% on monthly ad spend.


By “attribution,” we mean measuring as many marketing touch points as possible to understand how each contributes to the point of conversion. This is not easy, and there are several systems on the market to help measure this. Without looking at the entire stream of media and understanding the relative value of each touch point, a media planner can end up making the wrong decisions and cut out a publisher that may be a significant contributor early in the sales funnel.  Attribution measurement, if done right, is an approach that takes into account all touch points to understand which are working; particularly given that almost all campaigns have display, search, email, social, affiliate, and more components, plus a mix of direct publishers, RTBs, networks, and exchanges. Similarly, political campaigns look at how targeted display, social, TV, radio, PR and other channels work together to sway votes and donations in favor of their candidates.


Like political campaigns, many digital campaigns leverage some sort of targeting, whether it’s contextual, audience, geographical, etc. It’s important to identify what really works in this area, so you can build smarter media plans. Good metrics can look at multiple variables, including creatives, geographies, publishers, audience segments, and find the best combinations for optimization.

While frequency capping, attribution and targeting aren’t the only things to look at when planning the optimal media buying strategy, they are three important steps to start building more effective media plans by looking at past performance. Why? Because they work.



2 comments about "Three Simple Steps You Can Take Today To Improve Media Buying ".
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  1. Michael Kaushansky from Havas Media, October 9, 2012 at 1:22 p.m.

    This is great, though we need a process for planners to leverage the attribution insights and convert them into action; we are a few who is doing that now

  2. John Grono from GAP Research, October 9, 2012 at 4:12 p.m.

    While this article provides good advice about the online component of a communications campaign, I would heartily recommend an 'attribution' model that looks at the whole communications campaign. For example, not once is 'price' (your brands and your competitor's brands) mentioned. Any marketer will tell you that price is probably the strongest lever they can pull (albeit at great cost). A sales model the doesn't include price is naive at best. I would recommend using multivariate temporal non-linear econometric models which also include non-economic variables (e.g. weather, consumer sentiment, business sentiment, unemployment, savings levels etc.) to get a holistic view of the brand within its marketplace. Once you have that model sorted (and implemented its implications on your next communications plan), then you can implement low-level analytics as described above. After all, who wants to optimise what could be the wrong strategy?

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