Buy American, I Mean Remnant (Media Buying Part I)

This is part 1 of a multiple part series on media buying.

Someone from a company that will remain unnamed reached out to me recently. They were doing their first media buy and knew they were in unfamiliar territory. My original advice consisted of finding out the core components of your audience you think you can use for targeting purposes, and target as well as you can. An easy example is drivers. Solid approaches to reaching only drivers and not many non-drivers is to invest in interstate billboards and radio ads (oh, don’t give me that, you know there’s no reason to listen to the radio if you’re not trapped in a car). Being smart with your money means going after the type of media that has the customer targeting you want naturally built in.

So this person went out and received a quote from the vendor that had the targeting they wanted. It was a ridiculously high quote that definitely needed to be negotiated down. To cover those bases, I linked them Tim Ferriss’s guide to negotiating advertising, which I suggest anyone read through if they haven’t. What I also realized was a mistake in my initial advice. Targeting, up to a point, is certainly essential to making the right choice in media buying and making it cost effective. But it is only appropriate up to a point. If you’re targeting beyond just a certain type of media and are targeting certain parts of that media e.g. not just advertising on the USA Network, but doing it during Burn Notice only, you will pay a premium for requesting that targeting (if they can even do it. Traditional media can be incredibly unflexible).

When considering premium targeting, you have to receive rates with the premium targeting and without and compare the benefits to the cost. Some key questions to keep in mind when using this process: what is the value of the highly targeted media, and what is the value of the less targeted media? If the answer to the latter is zero, then of course you’re highly incentivized to pay for the premium targeting. If the answer to the latter is some percentage of the value of the premium media, compare that to the markup you’d pay for the premium media. It still may be more effective to choose the less targeted media.

An additional question to ask is, if I only choose the less targeted media, what percentage of my media buy will actually hit the more targeted media anyway? This may be hard to calculate, but you can use some common sense assumptions. Essentially, if you feel that many other advertisers are paying for the premium targeting, it would be low. If the media vendor has to check to see if they can do the targeting you’re requesting or if the premium targeting is a significant percentage of overall inventory, it probably isn’t being requested by many other advertisers, and your chances of hitting that premium targeting are higher.

Much of the time, when you run through this decision-making process, you’ll find you don’t need to pay for the premium targeting, but of course it depends on the situation. If you’re finding that you don’t need to pay for the premium targeting, there is an additional step you can take to create even more budget savings and/or increase the amount of media exposure you purchase. That is asking for remnant inventory. Remnant inventory is simply inventory that doesn’t get sold during an advertising time frame. This obviously won’t happen for extremely high coveted media like Super Bowl ads, but for most other media, they are at least a few impressions that go unsold and make the media vendor no money. Because of this, they may be willing to offload this inventory for a very low cost or maybe even for free.

What you need to consider is, back to the earlier question, what is the value of remnant media versus premium or untargeted media? In most cases, it is still a significant percentage of the premium and pretty close to the same as untargeted media from a normal buy. Depending on the medium, there could be zero or a significant difference in the quality of the inventory, so be sure to be sure to evaluate what the characteristics of a remnant impression are likely to buy e.g. for the USA Network, it’s likely not during primetime. But, it might be during Burn Notice re-runs on a Saturday and still hit the initial targeting you were interested in.

A common strategy is to buy some untargeted media and then negotiate any remnant inventory the vendor may have as a bonus. This doesn’t lock them into providing you media, but if they have a request for remnant from someone, they’ll fulfill it versus the media being blank. Since, in many cases, there is little difference between the quality of paid and remnant media, and since many media vendors have a significant inventory that goes unsold, advertisers can significantly increase their exposure with no additional cost. This is also a way sales people at media vendors can circumvent pricing floors without raising too much of a stink.

Excel can come in handy for evaluating the overall effectiveness of a buy that could consist of premium, untargeted, or remnant media, and deciding which buy to go after. My next post will go into more detail about how to use Excel and data to enhance the media buying process as well.