What The NBA Champions Can Tell You About Your Programmatic Media Plan

Unless you’re from Miami, you probably found the San Antonio Spurs’ systematic dismantling of the Miami Heat in the 2014 NBA Finals to be pretty damn amazing. Watching a team comprised of discarded role players and over-the-hill stars take down basketball’s best player and his team of superstar cronies was nothing short of basketball ecstasy. Prior to the 2013-14 season, even Las Vegas had the Heat as an overwhelming favorite at 7/4 odds (every $4 put down you’d win $7 for a Heat championship). How did the Heat lose? And what the hell does this have to do with online advertising?

One of the things that stood out most about the 2014 Spurs team was the diversity in their roster, both culturally and especially across the nuances of each player’s game. Not many redundancies of skill sets. The Spurs regularly rotated three different players at the power forward position during their playoff run: Tim Duncan, Boris Diaw, and Matt Bonner. On paper, there’s very little diversity, with all three between 6’9” and 6’11” and weighing 240 to 250 pounds. However, each of these players brings a unique skill: Duncan’s low post game, Diaw’s passing, and Bonner’s ability to knock down the three-pointer. This diversity gave coach Greg Popovich the ability to “optimize” his lineup based on the flow of any given game.

How does this relate to online advertising and media planning? When creating a media plan, there are normally three main dimensions: reach (how many unique people will I reach?); frequency (how often will I message each of these people?); and continuity (how do I time the nuances of this media plan to maximize ROI for the client?).



It’s very easy to equate reach and frequency of a media plan to depth on an NBA roster, with the ultimate goal of both being to reduce redundancies. The performance we saw from the Spurs came from the unique nature of their roster, which was able to handle any scenario an opposing team could throw at them. A great media plan requires the same flexibility.

Redundancies are dangerous, opening the plan up to potential partner cannibalization. With so many white-labeled technologies out there in the market, it’s important for brands and agencies to understand which vendors and inventory are unique, and then build a roster of partners that can work in a complementary fashion with each other.

The last element of a great media plan is continuity, or how to plan over time to maximize ROI. All advertisements are not created equal -- for an auto client, a campaign in the middle of March doesn’t hold the same weight as a campaign promoting the new 2015 fleet, and they should not be treated and valued the same.

The concept of “heavying up” during key points of the year is neither new nor earth-shattering, but still remains a crucial component within a sound media plan. Whether it’s back to school or tax season,  there are crucial points within a calendar year that must be treated specially. The same goes for games throughout the NBA season. Coach Popovich is famous for resting his older players during the regular season, much to the chagrin of the NBA. He’s even been fined for this practice. What’s important is that Coach Pop understands that a game on a Tuesday night in January at Milwaukee is not as valuable as a playoff game in late June, and it’s best not to maximize his assets when the results generated -- a regular season win versus a playoff win -- are not equal. Once again, the same principle applies to a great media plan.

We’ll never know if Greg Popovich would make a great media director, or if Tim Duncan could dominate advertising as he did the power forward position. However, the parallels between what made the Spurs great and what makes up an excellent media plan are undeniable. May the power of Coach Pop compel you.

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