Is There A Premium Market For Direct Response?

As Gabe Gottlieb from Adomic pointed out a few weeks back, even the brand advertisers working in programmatic today are leveraging it for direct-response campaigns. “We’re still seeing advertisers concentrating their RTB budgets on lower funnel and more transactional goals, while reserving their brand spending for traditional direct channels,” he’d said, noting that most of the inventory sold programmatically consisted of IAB legacy banners and buttons.

Liz Serafin, vice president of interactive media at Geary LSF, a full-service agency, works with top-notch clients across verticals, from WD-40 Company to Club Med. The agency’s roots are in search and direct response, and clients rely on it largely for these types of marketing.

Serafin’s clients follow the lower-funnel trend cited by Gottlieb, focusing on programmatic for their DR efforts. Any premium buys (and Serafin’s clients generally think of premium in terms of publishers and pages only) are brokered directly with publishers.



With such a heavy focus on optimizing to the click or conversion – regardless of the source - I wonder if there is any market for premium in direct response. Historically, direct advertisers haven’t cared where ads appear or what they look like, as long as they drive the desired results. That’s part of the reason that DR has, of late, gotten a bad rap. Between badly behaved (yet high performing) affiliates, concerns for brand safety with respect to placement, and an abundance of fraud, the discipline has taken some hard hits to its reputation in recent years.  The click has suffered collateral damage in this battle, and DR and search marketers have become the redheaded stepchildren of the industry.

But while there are definitely some dicey characters out there, direct response itself can’t be blamed.  In fact, DR remains the most measurable and accountable marketing practice, and new standards in viewability combined with effective technology in fraud detection have made it safer than ever. And brands – even esteemed brands like Adobe, BMW and American Express - are investing in DR campaigns. So is there a premium market for direct response?

Serafin thinks so.  Right now, she thinks premium is more of an ego play for many of her clients, who want their ads running on top-tier publisher sites, providing goals are met. “Premium is something our clients aspire to. However, it is often seen as too expensive, and not targeted enough to meet their specific cost per acquisition and ROI goals,” Serafin says. “The idea of premium entering RTB becomes attractive to those advertisers because now they feel they can have quality and desirable inventory  - and yet still engage in the sort of practices that are likely to produce a strong ROI.”

“Many DR advertisers grew up within the industry engaging in paid search and affiliate marketing, so they expect anything else they do online to mirror those types of returns,” Serafin continues. “Programmatic is really what has fostered the ability to drive positive ROI and actual CPAs – more than just awareness and branding metrics. As we layer in more premium inventory, DR advertisers may find good reason to increase spends within display.”

Beyond premium publishers, Serafin tells me that her clients have been experimenting with richer ad units, as well.  It’s something she expects to see more of. “Our clients have been doing some exciting work with rich media and video - and the ability to interact with the actual unit. We’ve seen engagement start to drive acquisition, so if premium inventory also leads to the ability to place different, richer, more robust ad units, that’s definitely something we would promote for testing. It could be beneficial to DR advertisers.”

If more engaging ads on higher quality sites really drive better results, perhaps we will see a movement toward premium direct response – and away from some of the shiftier practices we’ve been seeing.  That could remove some of the tarnish from DR.  At the same time, I hope we’ll see more brands leveraging RTB for direct response start investing in programmatic branding campaigns. It would be nice to have a balance of both brand and DR campaigns across programmatic, wouldn’t it?



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