Improve Ad Performance With Slow, Deep, Breathing

Screen Shot 2018-01-08 at 10.02.21 PMMy mission for 2018 is to help marketers improve their digital marketing performance. It’s a mess out there. The latest example? News UK (publisher of The Sun and Times of London) finds that SSPs were still offering their inventory for sale after News UK turned off the supply. Over 2.9 million bids per hour were being made on totally fake inventory.

Still feeling good about your programmatic buys? As Dr. Augustine Fou, the cybersecurity and ad fraud researcher pointed out yesterday, there’s a lot of questions your CEO, CFO, and procurement department will ask of you to “defend the spend.” You wouldn’t want to be bidding on fake inventory and have to defend why you wasted corporate resources on it, would you?

You don’t have to be an ad fraud expert to get better. You just have to know to ask a few relatively easy questions of your marketing managers, ad agencies, and adtech and martech vendors (not “partners”). Here’s a few of my favorites:

  1. How many sites do you run ads on? When you get the answer ask yourself if that number is reasonable. P&G and Unilever–who sell to everybody–run on about a thousand or so. If it turns out that you’re running ads on lots of sites, look out for this response:  “Well you only ran 10 impressions on site number 143,200, so don’t worry.”
  2. How many ads does a prospect see before they either buy or you stop marketing to them? Ask for a histogram that shows the distribution for buyers, non-buyers, and the total. As Mark Ritson counsels “look to the zero” (in this case the one, meaning cookies/IDs with only one impression.) You might see a histogram that shows a lot of single-impression cookies on certain media. If you you hear “well, cookies and IDs don’t persist, so it’s hard to control frequency,” that tells you they don’t have control over what’s being purchased. Speaking of frequency caps, next question.
  3. How did you arrive at your frequency cap number? Ask to see the test results that proved what the cap should be and how many buying tactics (not “strategies,” please) meet the frequency caps. Again, ask for the histogram of impressions and “look to the 1 [impression].”
  4. If you run ads to 100 people on network/publisher X and to 100 people on network/publisher Y, how many of the 100 are the same people? Always ask this question using the world “people” and insist on being answered in terms of people, not cookies/device IDs/etc. I bet the answer you get is garbled. Follow up with “exactly how do you know this and how often do you check?”
  5. How many ads does it take to get a person to buy our product? This should be easy: # impressions/# attributed sales. Does the answer make sense? How does it make you feel? Follow up with “how does that compare to other media we buy?”

Most of these questions, aside from #5, either can’t be answered–at least in terms of “people”–or give you bizarre non-answers.

Will just asking these questions solve your digital marketing problems? No. But at least you’ll be forcing the kinds of conversations that you must have, before you have them in front of your CEO or board of directors.

By the way, going back to Dr. Fou’s article “Questions for CEOs, CFOs, and Procurement to Ask (about ad fraud)” why not start the year off by working with procurement? Have them look at your agency and vendor agreements. Make sure they are acting as a fiduciary (a true agent) and not as a principal. Yeah, there might be a few cases where your agency may also provide production or media buying services. But make sure they are required by contract to disclose when they are acting as a principal.

A vendor won’t agree to your procurement rules? Eh. Go find somebody else–with ethics, who will act in your interests. Now, that’s the definition of a “partner!”

Hope your New Year is off to a good start.

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