Zipf: A Counter to Programmatic Nonsense

One of the arguments in favor of using programmatic buying is “variety.” As in, there’s so many websites available that there’s no efficient way to purchase on that number of sites. Because you can’t do that many direct deals, you have to buy programmatically.

The argument ignores Zipf’s law.

Most humans watch <20 TV channels, even though we have hundreds available. If you look at time spent, the vast majority of the attention is spent on just a couple of those channels.

Humans listen to one or two radio stations. We take one route to work. We eat the same few things, whether at home or in restaurants.

Yet in the digital world the fantasy persists that it’s more efficient to buy crappy inventory out on the long tail for $0.50 CPM. Nonsense. Once you get past the few sites at the head of a powerlaw distribution, the amount of reach and frequency you get with humans falls off exponentially.

Takeaway: In 2018, say “no” to programmatic-first tactics. Buy sites that humans visit. Pay the going rate. Don’t be fooled by cheap. And win.

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