How To Get Your Money's Worth Online

If we are indeed embarking on The Customer Century, where the customer calls the shots and the advertiser delivers, then we must have some way of measuring what is delivered, right?

Wrong. There is a major dilemma facing online advertising right now because there is no consensus, and no policy dictating the metrics of online advertising.

What really is an impression? Is it when your ad is called up? When it is fully loaded? When your ad is viewed for at least one second?

What is a click? Is it when someone actually arrives at your site? Or is it when someone clicks on your ad? What if they hit the “back” button? Does that still count?

These questions, as everyone in the business knows, are the wedge that stands between marketers and publishers. Each side has arguments and rationale to back up their side of the situation. But since we are embarking on The Customer Century, the marketer has the power to set the standards that all other traditional media enjoy.

At the heart of the matter resides how to define impressions and click-throughs. Most publishers use third-party ad servers to control their inventory and measure results. There are many reputable third-party ad serving companies (AdKnowledge, DoubleClick, AdForce, Accipiter, and so on). But none of them produce the same numbers when tracking the exact same campaign.

Why? Ad servers used by publishers typically define impressions much differently than, say, an ad server that doesn’t have the best interests of the publisher in mind.

You see, the vendors who sell advertising want to use the numbers that their third-party server shows. And the advertisers who bought the ads want to do the same. It’s the classic “you show me yours and I’ll show you mine,” and, as always, they may never match up.

The real tragedy here is that the advertiser usually ends up paying the price. For example, with a campaign that I recently administered, the budget was $150K, and only about $110K worth of ads were actually delivered. That difference would almost buy me a new Lexus!

When I called the vendors on behalf of my client, they seemed shocked that I was even keeping track. They said that their numbers showed all of the impressions were delivered. After a lot of back and forth paperwork and haggling, they finally delivered make-good impressions. But it makes me wonder, how many advertisers just accepted “their numbers” without speaking up? Probably more Lexuses than you can count have been lost .

My hope is that enough agencies will develop a hard-line policy on “who’s calling the shots,” and start putting the interests of their clients first. If agencies demand accountability from the vendors according to the agency numbers, then vendors will call for standards to be developed in the online community. After all, as marketers, we are the customers.

But until these standards are developed, here is my advice for advertisers:

  1. Find an ad server that meets your requirements as a marketer. If you want the impression to count only when the banner is fully loaded, find an ad server that defines it as such.
  2. Make it abundantly clear to the vendors that your third-party serving system will be the only one responsible for keeping track of the numbers. Don’t buy ads from vendors who will not accept your terms from the very beginning. Period.
  3. Put a sentence like this one in every insertion order: “The delivery of impressions and clicks will be tracked by (advertiser’s third-party ad server) only.” And just to make sure, make it verbally clear to the vendor before placing any ads. Believe me, this will come up again later.
  4. Demand that your online agency show you the final impression and click numbers. If your agency is not able to do that for you, I suggest you find a new one. At M2K, we track ads well beyond the click, even to the final sale.
  5. Check that every single impression contracted was delivered. If you can get them to agree to accept your numbers only, then they have no choice but to give you your money’s worth. Usually, if you call them on it, the vendors will make good on what was contracted.

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