Why so many regional online campaigns are ghost ships

Modern technology makes it possible to control local advertising pressure with relatively little effort. Despite that ease, it’s rarely been done so far.

Modern technology makes it possible to control local advertising pressure with relatively little effort. Despite that ease, it’s rarely been done so far. This gap between technological capabilities and reality is often because of a fatal silo approach to offline and online advertising.

Online campaigns often aren’t targeted

Let's imagine for a moment that a media agency is planning an out-of-home advertising campaign.

Advertisers looking at the DSP might spot a few favorable locations that happen to be available. Those locations are normally automatically selected, just because they’re there. With no target group or even environment analyses to speak of, the ads are simply booked.

A print ad agency that acts in this way would quite rightly be quickly out of business. But, the absurd thing is that in the online world, digital local campaigns are often operated exactly in this fashion. And, no one really seems to care.

Indeed - I'm talking about online. In other words, the medium in which everything is supposedly measurable, and where advertising can be precisely targeted down to the smallest detail. The truth is, however, that many online local and regional multi-location campaigns are flying blind. They are ghost ships and it is pure coincidence whether they arrive where they are supposed to arrive.

How can this be? It has to do with programmatic booking mechanics - or more precisely, an outdated understanding of them.

Programmatic ads target metropolitan areas

The current programmatic booking mechanism, of choosing ad space based on where its cheapest, often means ad space goes to one type of location. That is, metropolitan areas. People in less densely populated areas often see little or nothing of programmatic campaigns.

Yet, just under 17 percent of the German population lives in cities with more than half a million inhabitants. What a waste of target group potential.

Theoretically, online campaigns are planned according to relevant advertising areas. Unfortunately, with everything ultimately combined into one campaign, programmatic logic means a disproportionately large portion of budget is dumped into precisely those metropolitan areas. Local advertising pressure is neither controlled nor reported, nor evaluated.

Instead, whether and how local target group potentials are reached remains largely a matter of chance.

Outdoor advertising and print already do better

Examples from the offline world, namely outdoor advertising and print, show that things could be better. These publishing mediums already have years of experience financing comprehensive offline data, including geoanalysis and planning tools. Thanks to them, we know which target group potentials exist in which regions. Campaigns and budgets can therefore be planned efficiently down to the individual OOH point. That also allows waste coverage to be avoided – which is how optimum local advertising pressure is determined.

There is actually no logical reason not to use these findings and geoanalyses for online planning as well. However, it is hardly ever done. And that is grossly negligent.

What is the reason for the discrepancy? Is it arrogance that so few online planners look beyond the edge of their relevant dashboards? After all, they can supposedly measure everything. Is it because anything from the so-called “Dusty” offline era doesn’t deserve a place in modern digital media planning? Or is it simply a lack of knowledge? Do planners with a purely digital background lack an understanding of local campaign management beyond click and performance KPIs.

While it’s probably a mix of everything, this silo mentality is one that customers will eventually pay for with their advertising budgets. Yet, it is so obvious to combine the best of both worlds. Today, even programmatic campaigns can be controlled at a hyperlocal scale without much effort. Welcome to the 20s of the 21st century.

The antagonism between paper ads and digital has always been nonsense. Today, it is even more so. Anyone who wants to plan and manage cross-media campaigns must remove those blinkers. Hyperlocal campaigns can be implemented online and offline and ideally by combining both. In this way, omnichannel becomes more than a buzzword, it becomes reality.

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