Media Buying Do’s and Don’ts

In an industry like online advertising, in which audiences are fickle and competition is stiff, knowing what to avoid is almost as important as knowing what works. A poorly planned strategy almost always results in a campaign’s failure (not to mention it lets advertisers’ precious media budgets go to waste), so it’s the job of the media planners and buyers to ensure the tactics employed are as fail-safe as possible.

All good media buyers know a strong marketing strategy is the key to success. Why is it, then, Internet users continue to encounter campaigns that just don’t seem to make sense? From ads popping up in irrelevant places to creative that may have looked great during brainstorming meetings but flopped when introduced to an online audience, the examples of poorly executed Internet ad campaigns are virtually endless.

There are a number of explanations for this ubiquitous phenomenon. Maybe the buyer behind the campaign wasn’t fully aware of the conditions of his media buy contract and was just as surprised as his client was to find his ads in a particularly bizarre rotation. Or perhaps he was the victim of an especially savvy sales rep who talked him into a sponsorship that didn’t quite compute.

Whatever the case, these game-day fumbles do serve a valuable purpose. Besides teaching the accountable buyer a lesson that can help to improve her future work, they also provide the rest of us with examples of what can go wrong if we aren’t on the ball. In the spirit of education, here are a couple of real-life examples of what not to do, and what to strive towards, when planning your next online buy.

A Sponsorship That Lacks Flavor

Few online advertising blunders are more confusing to consumers than a site section sponsorship that simply seems misplaced. I experienced this brand of bewilderment for myself while recently browsing through Canada’s FoodTV.ca site in search of cookie recipes just before the holidays.

As I prepared to print out a recipe for delectable prize-winning shortbread, I noticed the site’s cookie section, a special seasonal feature, was sponsored by a popular Canadian vintner. This immediately struck me as strange. The purpose of site sponsorships, after all, is to create an association in consumer’s mind between the relevant content found in a targeted site section and the advertiser’s product.

Had the Dairy Farmers of Canada been sponsoring the cookie section, I would have understood. But wine? Unless the media buyer behind this campaign acquired some secret site statistics showing Canadian consumers with a penchant for baked goods prefer their cookies to be accompanied by a good bottle of wine, rather than a cold glass of milk, I fail to understand the connection. The key to online sponsorships is to stick with site content that is relevant to your product. If you intend to develop a successful campaign, avoid confusing your target audience at all costs.

The Sweet Taste of Success

On the other end of the media buying scale are campaigns like the one I saw running on a popular lifestyle and cooking site not long ago. The campaign creative, exhibiting many of the qualities that consumers deem useful and informative, was designed to encourage the target audience to visit and interact with the advertiser’s Web site.

In this particular instance, the ad was promoting the Betty Crocker Web site, the home of recipes and cooking tips galore. Contrary to the latest conventional wisdom, the ad was delivered in the form of a pop-up. But unlike your typical mass-delivered version, this animated ad adopted an e-mercial style.

The browser window let viewers see a click-by-click demo of some of the interactive tools available to consumers at BettyCrocker.com, prompting them to check out these features for themselves. By using this visually stimulating advertising technique and utilizing product cues to educate online audiences about new developments at the client’s Web site, the Internet marketer responsible for this campaign manages to improve brand awareness of Betty Crocker products while generating valuable site traffic. This amalgamation is apt to produce results time and again.

The next time you’re planning a campaign, whether preparing a buy or designing ad creative, take a few minutes to investigate what your peers are up to online. The range of campaigns — from imperfect to outstanding — you’ll no doubt find during your travels is certain to provide a crash course in the do’s and don’ts of media buying.

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