Woe The Digital Sale: Proper Storm Behavior

Question from a seller: We have a dramatic increase in page views because of the recent hurricane. That caused a spike in impressions, and many campaigns fulfilled earlier than their scheduled end dates. What should I say to those clients?

Jason says: I think hurricanes should be more appropriately named. I'd feel better being angry at Hurricane WTF or Tropical Storm MarkSanchez. As most of us know, bad weather and bad news always means increased business for media owners. It's a generations-old reality, once crassly summed up as, “if it bleeds, it leads.” The advertising business has always had to react to positive spikes in readers/viewers/listeners due to unforeseen events that arise from news or weather. Historically, these have always been positive incidents for the advertiser and the media property. 

Media owners benefited either directly, from more people purchasing their magazines or newspapers, or indirectly, with increased ratings from more people watching or listening to their channel. Occasionally, there would be instances where advertisers would pull their creative out of the media entity if the creative offer was too insensitive of the event in question. However, most found it unnecessary. Some advertisers would even change their creative to capitalize on the situation, offering some version of, “Our thoughts are with you at this time of sorrow/crisis,” or, “Yes, we normally advertise clothes, but we also sell batteries, generators and mattresses.” (Note to self: Remember to add batteries and pork rinds to go-bag.)



The point is, this situation was always a win-win for both media owners and advertisers. You might even throw in another “win” for the reader/viewer/listener who was able to get a relevant message based on the prevailing circumstances.

Now, here comes digital to somehow make a problem out of something that never was one. An advertiser who wanted her 10mm impressions delivered over four weeks, instead gets those 10mm actually delivered in four days because of the traffic surge. If I were the advertiser, the last thing I’d expect from the website is to be turned off for the next three weeks. You sold the advertiser 10mm impressions with a promised start date and end date. Unless you were explicit that the impressions could be completed before the end date, you are on the hook (ethically) to deliver a smooth, fluid delivery cycle. Remember, while nobody could foresee a traffic increase, it is in the publisher’s control to serve the ads.

If you as publisher deny culpability and don’t extend the ad delivery through the end of the agreed upon cycle, then the only thing that won’t go back to normal is your relationship with this advertiser.

P.S.: This article was written on toilet paper, in the dark, with a crayon.

Amy says:  Impression overdelivery has historically been welcomed in digital campaigns.  In the old days, we agency folks loved taking credit for a reduced effective CPM at the end of a campaign, and the added value it brought.  Maybe some of us still love it.  But it isn’t always a benefit especially when impressions overdeliver way before the campaign end date.

End of the year, with the holidays fast approaching, is a particularly challenging time for this kind of campaign disruption.  Advertisers plan for a certain level of presence, so it isn’t just about raw impression delivery before the flight ends.  Campaigns will still need to deliver as intended, so your buyers will be grateful if you reach out to them and confirm how you are handling the campaign. Being proactive about this will score you big points with your buyers.  And come time to reconcile billing, it will be even more helpful to have the numbers sorted in advance of the invoice.

Your buyers will likely be facing other considerations.  All these impressions are most likely being third-party ad served, and there will be additional costs.  Key response rates will be diluted, as impressions may lead to excess frequency.  Finding out how your site is continuing to perform within a campaign after the storm will be key.  When it comes post-analysis time, the effects of the hurricane may not be a good enough excuse for poor site performance.  It’s a tough problem to manage for publishers if they don’t have their inventory management systems running correctly.  As the customer-facing salesperson, your internal relationships may be just as important as external ones.  Now may be the time to pull in a few favors on behalf of your best customers’ campaigns.

Things are stressful enough with the storm recovery.  Do your agency partners a favor and help them get their campaigns back on track.  It will help everyone get back to normal more quickly and easily, and end the year strong!



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