Monday, September 15, 2008

Search Insider: Is The Future of Media Buying Already Here?

Is The Future of Media Buying Already Here?

THIS WEEK I WAS EXCITED to learn that Google and NBC Universal struck a deal to allow Google to sell select TV inventory by leveraging its Google TV platform and Dish Network set-top-box data.  Although the deal will only provide advertisers with the ability to buy inventory on the Sci Fi, Oxygen, MSNBC, Sleuth and Chiller channels, I believe this deal signals the next generation of media buying.  Fortunately, for search marketers living in a world where strategic planning and campaign management already beats to a data-centric, real-time, technology-driven drum, we're all positioned nicely to capitalize on this evolution (and revolution).

Ambitions are high, and visions of dynamic, easily tracked, demographically targeted TV placements are common among our industry. However, is this the holy grail right now?  Do we have a long way to go and some big challenges to face ahead, or will channels like TV, radio, outdoor and more get bitten by "the ways of search" and be truly converted?  Let's explore:

Inventory drives ubiquity. Google is always a starting point for any advertiser moving into paid search or looking to build scale.  As colleagues Kevin Lee and Steve Baldwin say (in the title of their book), "The Eyes Have It," and 68% of searchers certainly represent enough eyes to drive plenty of inventory available within the AdWords platform.  Contrast AdWords for search with its TV and radio products. and you'll be hard-pressed to find mass appeal based on the limited inventory these products represent.  The Google/NBC deal does include some solid channels that have good viewership, but Google has already disclosed that it will only be selling limited inventory in order to gauge performance, a situation that will likely appeal to only a small segment of advertisers.  

A similar limitation to growth can be seen across ad exchanges.  Many exchanges -- including Ad ECN, Open X, and the DoubleClick Advertising Exchange -- will grow in popularity over the next year, but like the Right Media Exchange, the overall industry will be held back from experiencing the value of dynamic, real-time, controllable display media if it continues to only represent remnant inventory.  Will large publishers' challenges selling media at high CPMs drive more premium inventory to the exchanges?  That's the question, which will be the same issue that higher valued/priced inventory across all channels will probably experience until demand drops enough to drive considerable moves over to the exchanges.

Context can kill. It's no secret that the promises of social media advertising have been tempered considerably by the dismal CTRs and lower-than-expected eCPMs garnered by major players in the social space (MySpace, Facebook, etc.).  Industry-wide consensus is that social media Web site users are just not within a mode of behavior supportive of the same old impression-based advertising they've become used to as a standard annoyance across the Web.  Combine this with increased pressure from organizations to generate a positive return on ad spend, and context becomes critical to where you spend your ad dollars if maximum return is expected.  Users searching -- good context.  Highly targeted behavioral and contextual media -- good context.  Niche Web sites and blogs -- good context.  Watching TV -- usually not that good of a context.  

As long as TV continues to function as a one--way, non-interactive medium based on entertainment, the benefits of highly targeted ads may wane over the same old broad-based brand media.  I'm all for targeting: I believe that geo, demo and other data variables can be key drivers of intent and conversion, but as a search marketer, I'm spoiled by the immediate cause and effect measurement that provides a clear differentiation over UN-targeted media being purchased.  Let's push for interactivity so we can capitalize on intent right now, just like search and online media, but if not, sharpen your creative skills, because nothing's worse than clear targeting variables wasted by completely un-targeted creatives.

Universal user IDs and APIs rule.  Perhaps the true value of targeted TV media is the ability to trigger the real-time buy of a specific audience profile or segment based on the interactions of other media, specifically online display and search data, which in terms of sheer volume, context, and intent behavior, gathers up many more user touch points than TV ever will.  Buying TV media based on a set-top-box's demography and viewing behavior is powerful, but buying that inventory based on previous online behaviors tracked and acted on as part of an overall profiling engine that goes beyond buying audience and straight to the heart of intelligent targeted and behavioral marketing is far more compelling.  With this vision top-of-mind among the search/online media industry, technologies that unify data collection and storage and provide universal user IDs for cross-channel targeting, and intelligent API-based systems that perform changes to media buys in real-time, will make that vision a reality.

Gerry Bavaro is executive vice president at Didit, an agency for search engine marketing and auctioned media management based in New York. You can reach Gerry at

Search Insider for Monday, September 15, 2008:

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