Discrepancies in Online Campaign Metrics

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"Do you want to save the changes you made to Client A Media Plan?" You click emphatically, yes!


You've finally finished your client's online media plan. You've crossed the t's and dotted the i's. You've analyzed and rationalized all the trusted market research. Maybe you even have a few years of experience in online media planning to help justify your "out of the box" choices. You've chosen your most confident vehicles: affiliate, e-mail, product integration, creative placements, etc. You've chosen to license, or your company has even built an ad serving system to deliver and track it all.


As you click "save" on your soon-to-be immortalized online media strategy, you hear the roar of thunder, the room turns bright -- "Yes!" you say. The online gods are smiling down on you.


Campaign Launches


Every site underdelivers -- Publishers, who had two weeks to test them, implemented your ad serving tags incorrectly. The "great deal" you purchased has just been pre-empted. Network A ran out of inventory and has bought inventory from Network B that it will now resell as its own. Problem is, you bought from both, and now you're duplicating your delivery and limiting reach. Your back-end tracking codes are not in the same spot as when you tested them (the client's Web guy moved them for "creative reasons"), so your cost-per-acquisition metrics will be inaccurate. The sales representative who promised you his stable of "integrated solutions" now returns with, "It would compromise our content. Would you like banners instead?"


If matters couldn't get any worse, your tracking system reports that Publisher A has completed only 50 percent of expected delivery and it has shut the campaign down saying that its ad server shows that it is complete -- two weeks early!


Just then the phone rings, it's the client ... As Charlie Brown would say, "Aauggh!"


A select few online marketers and agencies are even aware of the many industrywide issues, and will unfortunately continue to provide inaccurate information to their clients. Recent ad serving and tracking technology may help a marketer or an agency uncover some of these glitches, but again they would be reliant on some potentially flawed data to disclose itself as the culprit.


Data collection and analysis have progressed by leaps and bounds; however, "Garbage in, garbage out," as we say. What is equally important to having all the information available to you about your campaign is understanding the sources of that information and their shortcomings.


Explaining the truth about the inefficiencies in the online media space should be a conversation that you have with clients prior to launching an online marketing plan. A painful conversation, yes, but one that outlines real achievable objectives and sets the landscape for a campaign that is fluid and leaves room for expected hurdles and changes. Not all of these scenarios happen all at once, but many are very common issues that online marketers face when implementing a campaign.


Hardly acceptable are the issues with discrepancies in ad serving delivery or even click-to-visit differences. Ad serving discrepancies refer to the difference in delivery numbers by the Web publisher and the advertiser's own third-party tracking system.


There have been reports from advertiser third-party ad tracking systems and publisher reporting systems that differ by as much as 60 percent. What has been voiced to be an "acceptable" rate of discrepancy throughout the industry is approximately 10 percent. As an advertiser or agency, this means that it is "acceptable" to lose $100,000 on a $1 million online media campaign. Or should a Web publisher be forced to deliver 10 percent in additional inventory to satisfy a marketer or agency that won't agree to pay according to the publisher's internal delivery numbers?


Whose tracking system is reporting more accurately? With close to $2 billion in online ad spending for first quarter 2000, that would equate to more than $200 million in revenue generated/lost for either side from discrepancies. It's no wonder each side is sticking to its guns.


We are fortunate for the many advances in technology that allow for the monitoring of our online media spending more efficiently. But we are encouraged to remember when, years ago, we all had problems when trying to attach and control our Sony (or any other brand) VCR to our Mitsubishi television. Both are credible technologies, but they may or may not have been speaking the same language or perhaps not at the same time.


Eventually, someone created the universal remote enabling anyone to control it all at the click of a button. It's only a matter of time before online advertising has its own version of the universal remote, but for now, don't let your online media campaign get too comfortable on the couch.


• Jason Heller is CEO and John Santiago is chief operating officer at Mass Transit Interactive, New York, an online media buying and campaign management firm. Reach Heller at Jason@mass-transit.com and Santiago at John@mass-transit.com
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