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The Challenges of Digital Media Planning and Buying

Have you ever heard of the Great Unbundling?

Media planning and buying, the art of obtaining advertising space through strategy and negotiation, has existed for some time now. Before the 1980s and 90s, this job was primarily carried out by small subsections of advertising agencies. As digital marketing entered the zeitgeist, media buying and planning split from advertising agencies in a movement referred to as “the unbundling”.

The evolution of media buying didn’t end there. People rely on the web for more and more activities every day, and this internet takeover has opened the doors to a world of possibilities for digital advertising. However, despite the incredible advantages of digital channels, this (relatively) new frontier does come with its challenges.

A Few Reasons Brands Go Digital:


One of the most significant advantages of digital media planning and buying is the mammoth number of people it can reach, which is defined as the number of people who view your content at least once during a period of time. According to Statista, 59.5% of the global population, 4.66 billion people, are active on the internet. More specifically, Nielsen found that search websites such as Google reach 197 million people a month, eCommerce websites reach 143 million, social media sites reach 179 million, video sites reach 143 million and news sites reach 105 million.

All of this is to say: the internet can reach far more people than traditional mediums.

Audience Targeting Capabilities

While conventional advertising can be targeted, it’s not nearly as precise as digital. You can place ads beside TV shows your audience might enjoy, and you can even choose a time they’ll likely watch, but that’s about as specific as it gets.

With digital advertising, you can individualize when, where and what ads your audience sees based on their personal preferences. Of course, this does require a much deeper analysis of your target audience. For a billboard spot, you might only need to know the areas your audience frequents, but for digital, you need to know the ins and outs of their behavioral patterns.

Despite the added effort, this deeper understanding usually pays off. In fact, the Delhi School of Internet Marketing found that targeted advertisements are almost twice as effective as non-targeted ads - the better you can target, the better your ads will do.

Real-Time Metrics

We’ve all heard the saying “the early bird gets the worm”, and the same principle tends to hold up in the business world. Often, the best competitors are simply the first to get their messaging to the market. Unlike traditional advertising, digital media planning and buying efforts usually have more instantaneous results.

This allows companies to assess in real-time if their advertising efforts are working, enabling them to pivot without wasting additional funds on ineffective tactics. It also empowers a company to bring innovations to the market faster than otherwise possible, establishing the brand as a trailblazer who listens to what the people want.

Challenges of Digital Media Planning and Buying

While there’s no questioning the advantages of digital advertising, the internet is a rapidly evolving space, and keeping up can be challenging. Without proper handling, the complicated nature of digital marketing opens the door to online scams, misaligned goals and a troublesome lack of clarity.

Brand Safety

Brand safety refers to procedures that protect a company from damaging its image or reputation online. Effectively, this means preventing ads from being close to inappropriate or offensive content that the brand doesn’t want to be associated with.

There’s no one way to guarantee brand safety, but there are plenty of measures you can take to be proactive. To start, a company should prioritize transparency in its online efforts - you should know what type of sites your ads are showing up on. Next, you can partner with a trusted digital media planning and buying agency, one that prides itself on providing high-quality spots. And of course, to keep your brand safe from negative content, you have to define what negative content is for your company (what’s appropriate for a nightclub will look very different from what’s appropriate for a children’s nonprofit organization). Some things are apparent, but it’s best to give the media buying agency a heads up if there is anything in particular that you want to avoid.

Ad Fraud

Another challenge of digital media planning and buying is ad fraud, which occurs when scammers attempt to trick advertisers into paying for spots with no real value. This issue is more prevalent than some may assume. Invesp found that digital ad fraud steals $1 for every $3 spent on online advertising, resulting in an annual loss of approximately $7.2 billion globally. With ad fraud being so profitable for scammers, it’s no surprise that they've developed a variety of methods for bamboozling us.

Ghost Sites: A popular method scammers employ to commit ad fraud is using ghost sites: fake websites with nothing of real value, designed to appeal to marketers. The goal of these sites is to steal from unwilling advertisers by hosting ads that will never get seen. While ghost sites may resemble a genuine website, you can identify them by their broken links, stolen content, falsified contact information and referral traffic from other untrustworthy sites.

Pixel Stuffing: Another common form of ad fraud is pixel stuffing. This occurs when full-priced ads are placed in a single pixel on a page, making them invisible to viewers. The catch is that the ad is technically present, so it will register as an impression every time someone opens the page - but again, they’ll never actually see the ad.

Ad Stacking: Like pixel stuffing, ad stacking registers impressions without actually showing the ad. In this form of fraud, multiple ads are placed in the same spot on a page, but only the top one is visible to the user. It’s similar to when airlines double book a seat on the plane, but in this case, no one gets a refund because no one is meant to find out.

Masked URLs: URL masking is an act of fraud that occurs when low-quality websites shield their true URL with another, more legitimate-looking URL. The goal is to con advertisers into thinking they’ve placed an ad on a high-quality site, while in reality, they are paying inflated prices for a lousy spot. This issue is growing more prevalent every year, as it’s one of the easiest ways to commit ad fraud.

A Lack of Transparency

By tracking your money and making sure the ads are performing appropriately for the locations you chose, you can prevent your company from falling victim to ad fraud. This ability to trace where advertising dollars are going, including the price of each ad, where they were placed, and how effective they were, is referred to as media transparency.

Unfortunately, full transparency can be difficult to achieve online, as digital media planning and buying is far more complex than more traditional methods. Media fragmentation in the virtual realm has scattered consumers, making it difficult to hone in on a target audience. In addition, the influx of consumer data online, though ripe with potential, adds another layer of complexity. Advertisers have to ask themselves: what data do you use? How do you get it? Where is the ethical line, and how do you avoid crossing it?

Lack of Cohesion

While the process of digital media planning and buying is certainly complex, it’s not half as confusing or disjointed as the technology involved. Martech, short for marketing technology, refers to the platforms used to optimize digital marketing campaigns. These technologies manage a plethora of marketing activities, including A/B testing, social media management and email marketing (just to name a few).

Advertising technology (Adtech), on the other hand, is the technology used to get the campaigns to the marketplace. Ad exchanges, which mediate the buying and selling of ads, are one form of this technology. Other forms of adtech include demand-side platforms (DSPs), which allow advertisers to purchase spots online for their ads, and supply-side platforms (SSPs), which allow publishers to sell their space. There are also data management platforms (DMPs), which store data and improve targeting efforts when used in conjunction with DSPs.

Unifying the process while using such a wide range of tech is unsurprisingly a difficult task. In most cases, your advertising is meant to accomplish a goal, whether it be gaining conversions, increasing revenue or improving brand awareness. For this reason, a lack of cohesion in your advertising efforts can be problematic. When each phase of the digital media planning and buying process is treated as its own separate entity, the end goal can get lost in the shuffle, as can the ability to measure your success at accomplishing it.

Meet Your Challenges Head-On

“I am ready to face any challenge that might be foolish enough to face me.” - Dwight K. Schrute

While advertising online isn’t always easy, with a trustworthy digital media planning and buying agency at your side, you can meet the challenges head-on. If you want to step up your digital media presence, contact The Ward Group today! With decades of experience, our media stewards are more than ready to elevate your business online or off.

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