Time to Solve the Frequency-Cap Mess

Michael Greene is the director of research and marketing strategy for AudienceScience, a digital marketing technology company. 

No advertiser wants to annoy people. That’s what happens, and you waste a lot of money, if you don’t get your frequency cap right. Marketers know this. It’s why nearly every one of your RFPs or insertion orders probably comes with a frequency cap.

And yet bad frequency management is costing digital marketers billions of dollars a year. Research we conducted with 6 marketers in 2012 showed a frequency disaster – averaged across all campaigns, 64 percent of impressions were out of frequency, and no advertiser had fewer than 60 percent of its impressions delivered beyond their cap. We’re not the only ones seeing this issue: ComScore is reporting similar trends through its Validated Campaign Essentials reporting.

The biggest problem is publishers are in charge of frequency. Basic incentives mean publishers favor impression delivery over frequency accuracy. Publishers regularly remove frequency caps mid-campaign if they fear that they will not be able to hit impression volume expectations set by agencies. Bots then go to work and help quickly solve the “delivery problem.” In fact, our research shows a few bot browsers often account for over 25 percent of a campaign’s delivery – often eating up tens of thousands of impressions.

However, technology limitations mean even the most committed efforts by publishers wouldn’t make a dent in solving frequency issues. Because individual publishers can’t control delivery on other publishers’ sites, advertisers are left to rely on average frequency reports, only obscuring the problem. For instance, in the six campaigns mentioned above, average frequency was well within the frequency cap for each.

These issues can only be solved by marketers taking full responsibility to use technology that can manage every impression, no matter how it’s bought. No amount of report pulling or more focused planning can solve the frequency issue. And no, beating up publishers for cross-publisher frequency issues they can’t control isn’t the solution. The only way to manage frequency effectively is to control every impression at the user-level across all inventory sources – RTB, private exchanges, direct publisher relationships. The programmatic tools are there. Solving the frequency management problem means stepping up, investing in them and using them.

Image via Flickr


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