Clarity Needed

It may seem hard to believe but all the talk about online ad fraud, transparency and accountability is – eventually – going to help clean up the political ad market. But first, we’re going to see some serious realignment.

Some has already started as established firms run for cover, getting bought by larger entities, taking on new roles with the infusion of an equity investment or working on building hope into their business models.

There are a couple of reasons for this. Last year’s winning digital firm – Giles-Parscale – doesn’t appear interested in becoming the big dog of Washington, D.C.-based online consulting. So there’s a vacuum – no one to buy out other firms, hire free-floating staff or generally shake things up.

Second, a lot of the promises made about targeting, online outreach and data weren’t realistic – and clients are catching on.

Partly they’re catching on because coverage of the mess that is ad tech for brands is getting news coverage and scrutiny.

Take this: Chase Bank, a huge online ad buyer discovered that fewer ads, placed on better quality sites worked better than lots of ads placed – oh, who knows where? Spot-On particularly liked this discovery; if you’ve ever heard us give advice about high-impact fixed placements you know we were ahead of the bank.

Or this example: The Guardian is suing Rubicon, an online ad placement exchange. Why? The website asked Rubicon to sell ads for them but the revenue doesn’t appear to have ended up in The Guardian’s wallet. Instead there were mysterious “fees.”

How about this? The head of P&G – you know the guys who spend millions promoting consumer goods like Tide and Crest – says online advertising needs to clean up it’s act.

Much of this is frustration: Advertisers AND publisher are tied of Google dominance of the ad marketplace and they see these problems as way to assert their long-treasured and much-eroded control over placement and pricing. They’re also sick of cavalier re-sellers who promise quality advertisers and placements but end up placing junk that turns readers away or, worse, offends them.

Although very few political shops are willing to admit it, much of the online inventory they secure is little more than resold Google ad placements, much of it less valuable than clients are told That’s the real reason resellers are struggling.

What to do? Spot-On has a number of suggestions but the main one is to plan your online ad buy they way you would any other aspect of the campaign. Start early, think about integration with mail and field and collect your own data and metrics. That will tell you what placements work, which should be avoided and how voters read your candidate, cause and messaging.

Help is on the way – a saner online ad market will emerge from all this wailing and finger-pointing. But it’s going to be a bit of a rough ride.

If you need further help, get a copy of Spot-On’s Best Practices White Paper, a 10-step guide for navigating the political marketplace. It’s free! Just drop us a note and we’ll send one over – pronto.

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