Buying and selling ad time goes online

Online do-it-yourself media planning is now available in Canada. And in the US, the imminent launch of a new online system sparked big buzz at last week's 4As conference. At least one Canadian media planner believes all this isn't necessarily good for the client.

Chances are, Canada’s marketing behemoths won’t forsake their media agencies any time soon. But for advertisers with smaller budgets, Toronto-based offers a self-serve site for marketers who want to buy advertising on their own. AdBargains president/CEO Jack Denneboom tells MiC his company has been in business for about six and a half years. ‘But until now, we’ve focused mostly on remnant selling … working with (clients such as) eTrade, Bacardi and St. Anne’s Spa.’

Last week, Denneboom launched an evolved version of that offers online do-it-yourself media buying of virtually any size or duration. Current venues are comprised of major newspapers across Canada, including the Vancouver Sun, Edmonton Journal, Calgary Herald, National Post, Toronto Star, Globe & Mail and Montreal Gazette – plus radio options, which include stations in the Standard, Corus and CHUM chains as well as others across the country. In the near future, Denneboom expects to add television, OOH and online to his site’s portfolio, as well as American outlets. Additional ad venues can self-register on the site to automatically be added to the options menu for ad buyers.

‘We like to say that AdBargains is like, where there’s no need to even talk to a travel agent if you don’t want to. You just go on the site, browse till you find what you want, and then buy it.’ AdBargains will charge advertisers a commission of 15% per purchase.

Denneboom concedes that ‘large media-buying agencies don’t need something like this, so we won’t be getting people who spend $20 million a year. But there are companies that spend (less) who already buy their advertising directly from suppliers.’ It’s that sector he believes will make use of

Toronto-based Genesis Media planner/buyer Sarah Armstrong says the whole concept of bypassing media agency expertise doesn’t sit well with her. ‘I see it as something that’s been created for clients,’ Armstrong explains. ‘And my fear is that a client might think (AdBargains) is the best option because it takes media agencies out of the loop. But actually they may not be getting the best rates. I just did a quick comparison of costs for a weekend deal I was working on for a client in the book industry. And where I’m going to be putting through a buy for $3,000, AdBargain’s straight online quote for roughly the same thing was a lot higher.’

That, she believes, is what could come from taking human negotiations out of the ad buying process, particularly clout-wielding media professionals. ‘It proves the importance to clients of dealing with people like us. We often negotiate (lower) rates up front at the beginning of the year. We get to know about little intricacies and special rates, that if you do something this way, maybe we could get some good terms. That’s the opposite of generic, top-line costing, which is what I think an online site does.’

Armstrong says she also doesn’t see how the kind of complicated integrated campaigns that are now bringing so much to clients could ever be accomplished online. ‘A lot of (the media sellers) are owned by the same companies. So we can get great deals by doing integrated campaigns, which something like AdBargains will not offer because everything is stand-alone.’

That issue, plus general concerns about the dangers of bypassing media professionals, has also been raised in the US, where emerging online models have been getting buzz lately. But despite potential stumbling blocks, online ad buying is definitely on the way south of the border.

The AAAA announced last week at its Las Vegas conference that it has formed a partnership with Arbinet, a digital communications solutions provider, to launch an industry-wide, cross-media, electronic trading directory dubbed Registry. In May, Registry will begin facilitating two-way buying and selling transactions between media and buyers of media, initially just for spot TV and radio.

Registry is the result of work done by a coalition of American advertisers and agencies that appointed a task force last August to study the viability of online ad buying. Why the issue has come to a head now, Kathy Crawford, president of local broadcast for MindShare, said at the 4As conference, is that ‘For local media, it’s crunch time. We can’t do this manually any longer.’

Another model that’s on the horizon in the States is the auction-based system, which will soon be in beta tests by a few cable networks.