The (Work) World I Play In Is Fascinating... And Scary.

"Spreadsheets and Powerpoints and meetings. Lots of meetings."

Someone asked what I do for work. And specifically, they wanted to know what it is that I do that allows me to work wherever I want.

I told them I am always busy, and that there is a never ending To Do list. One which I seem to never make enough progress against to please me.

But the majority of my days, when I work remotely in Boston, are filled with looking at numbers... Building Powerpoint decks with analysis... And lots of online meetings.

When I am in San Diego working, it's the same. But the ratio of meetings to work time is kicked up an aggressive notch.

Meetings with colleagues. One-to-one sessions to keep up with what's happening with my team members. A few client meetings. And of course, leading a digital media buying team, vendor meetings.

I think people who don't do media buying look at it from the outside and think it must be super glamorous... You have people who are trying to connect with you to show you what their technology can do and how it is the best way to spend your client's money.

"We see an average CTR and video completion rate of eleventy-bazilion percent!" they will claim in their case studies.

Often, they gloss over anything that really differentiates them from their competitors (there are so many video vendors, programmatic vendors, ad networks), and it comes down to me and my team asking a few things:

  1. How much of our client's spend goes towards the publisher where the ad is placed, and how much goes to you? The answer doesn't necessarily persuade our decision. We get that vendors mark things up because their costs to keep the technology powering things is expensive. We just want to be able to communicate to our client how much of their spend is "working dollars."
  2. Is your platform self-serve? Or do we have to use your team? We prefer to optimize ourselves how the dollars are shifting. We've worked with vendors in the past that only offered "managed" buys, and for the first few weeks traffic would kick ass. We'd be getting great CTRs and CPAs. Then it would die off. And we'd be like, "WTF?" And the reps we work with wouldn't be able to give us a straight answer. But clearly, something had changed with how the buy was managed (once we excluded that nothing changed on our client's side).
  3. What is the minimum we need to spend to test your platform? This one always peeves vendors. Their entry points are always much higher than I can really allocate comfortably for our clients. Usually four times what I am willing to commit. I let them know that we do want to test new platforms for our clients, but every dollar has to work hard for our clients. And we allocate as much as possible to platforms that we know work well for our clients. 
  4. What additional data sources do you use for targeting? And what kind of third party tracking do you use? This is usually one I don't have to ask. They will usually present us with this information right at the start of their presentation.
  5. What additional things would we have access to if we used you? If a vendor says to me, "We have access to Comscore or Nielsen data"... I get giddy. It's something that is too pricey for the size of agency we are to subscribe to. Plus, so many vendors subscribe to it already, if we need to justify or research for media planning purposes, our vendor partners are always willing to give us data from this that we need.

There are other questions we ask, depending on whether or not it is a video vendor or a display ad vendor. But a call yesterday had me asking a slew of other questions our of a mixture of horror and awe.

I was on the phone with my team, talking to a strong potential new vendor in the ad buying space. Their network access and technology didn't really stand out compared to others that we work with, but the rep we talked to seemed to be open to lowering the testing amount required. We appreciated that.

But as they were walking us through their deck of capabilities, one feature they had - which I hadn't seen anywhere else yet - was using "human emotion" as a targeting component.

How do they do that? You might be asking...

They use the technology in a consumer's webcam to study their face as they view the ad. 


When we were presented with this information in the deck, the rep jumped to the next slide before it fully registered to us. We asked them to go back to the slide.

"Wait," I said, when they got back to the slide, "So you have a service option that uses consumers' webcams to watch them view the ad, and use their reaction as a data point?"

Yes. I was told. And they explained that the consumer opts-in to being watched for the ad. They are offered something (like a gift card) for participating in what is considered an advertising study.

"Um," I said. "I have questions about that."

I then peppered the rep with what was buzzing in my head.

"Just knowing the clients we work with, I imagine that clients want to know what the opt-in language looks like that consumers are presented with for legal reasons. How evident is it to consumers that they are opting-in to this study?"

The rep reiterated that since they are receiving something in exchange for participating in the study, they are aware of what they are opting-in.

"We would still need to see the language they are presented with in order to vet it for our clients if we used that part of the service. Also, does this language include confirmation that their webcam technology is only used for the duration of the ad viewing for the study? Does it explicitly say that? I imagine that you have to ensure that the webcam technology isn't being used after that in anyway."

They assured me they had language around all of that.

It left me unsettled, though.

"Those are good questions," one of my team members messaged to me during the call.

"Any agency that works with this vendor isn't doing their job if they're not asking those kinds of questions," I wrote back. "This is scary!"

 It's one of the things that keeps me in this industry, actually. There is so much going on with how we can target consumers, that as a marketer it is a fascinating way to spend my day. And as a consumer, I like sequential marketing.

You know... When you're on, let's say, Anthropologie's website looking at a dress. Then you jump to Facebook and start reading through your news stream. And you get served an ad from Anthropologie with an image of the the item you were just looking at on their site.  

It's useful for reminding me to consider buying it. And as a marketer, I'm only allowed to target someone a few times with that same product. If they take no action, they get dropped.

Like a guy in the bar who hits on you a few times.  After a few lukewarm responses in conversation, they take the hint and go away.

"Why haven't you retired yet and moved on to doing something else?" a friend asked recently.

"This world that I play in is just too fascinating. And scary. Every day, it's something new. If it ever stops being this way, I'll get out of the industry. Or if it goes back to being just about TV or print... I'll definitely get the fuck out. I have no desire to be pedestrian."