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What’s the point? Why old-school buying techniques don’t cut it for digital media.

Updated: Jan 30

Have you ever wondered why traditional media buying methods just don't seem to click when it comes to the digital world?


For decades, TV and radio relied on the trusty currency of ratings points to measure success. However, in the realm of digital media buying, this age-old approach falls short.


Let's break it down.


In the world of media buying, it all starts with the universe—the audience size in a given medium. In the TV and radio days, reaching one percent of the audience was as simple as buying one rating point. But here's the catch—this approach doesn't translate well to digital media buying.


Why? Because digital buyers navigate a multitude of audiences, or as traditional buyers call them, universes.


Consider a hypothetical scenario: a client wants to kick off a campaign for a premium road bike, starting small in California.


Now, let's dive into the digital plan and the audiences we’d layer into the campaign:


On Meta:

  • Target followers of 8 popular bike-related pages

  • Remarket to site visitors

  • Create a lookalike audience

On Programmatic:

  • Geofence an upcoming road bike race

  • Target in-market bike shoppers

  • Remarket site visitors

  • Target high-income fitness enthusiasts

On YouTube:

  • Target subscribers of 10 popular biking channels

  • Target people in-market for bicycles or bicycle racing

  • Target a cycling affinity audience


Three digital channels, but a whopping 34 different universes to juggle!


The challenge? These universes often consist of global datasets, making it nearly impossible to pinpoint how many individuals from those sets are in California.


So, how do we navigate this complex digital terrain without the trusty points method?


Enter Reach and Frequency.


Most digital platforms allow you to set and cap frequency goals. Combining this with basic population data (thank you, US census!), we can estimate a reasonable number of impressions for a specific area. It's a delicate balancing act—too much reach, and your dollars are spread thin with low frequency; too high frequency, and you risk over-saturating your audience.


Picture our programmatic media buys as layer cakes—multiple data sets bid on in real-time to achieve scale at a DMA level. This not only allows us to test and optimize a buy in real-time but also gives our clients the winning edge.


Since we deal with both traditional and digital media, we always consider metrics like CPM (cost per thousand impressions), estimated reach, and frequency. When faced with the challenge of unknown universes in digital media, we focus on achieving an ideal frequency within the given budget.


But what about duplication across platforms?


Yes, it can drive up frequency. While there are sophisticated data companies dedicated to solving this puzzle, we also have a nifty formula to ballpark it. Combined Reach = Reach A + Reach B - (Reach A x Reach B). You have to do a bit of work to estimate reach as a percentage. It might sound complicated, but it becomes second nature with practice.


In a world where digital media has revolutionized our approach, more buyers are shifting their focus to impressions, reach, frequency, and CPM as their primary metrics.


Old-school methods might be comfortable, but in the ever-evolving digital media world, embracing change is the key to success.


If you want a buying team that knows how to manage complex omni-channel plans that are digital or include digital, that’s where we come in! 


P.S. Credit to the Helen Katz book “The Media Handbook” for the reach formula. That book is a must-have for any media buyer!

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