Thought Leadership

Brands: do you know where your media dollars are going?

June 17, 2015
By Communications

Brands enjoy an unprecedented opportunity to control allocation of their digital advertising campaign dollars across publishers, apps and platforms, and to understand how those dollars are moving the needle on the goals they’ve set.

But in order to exercise that control, brands need to know how their digital advertising budgets are allocated between working media and other elements, such as  data-targeting and technology fees. Only then will brands be taking full advantage of what digital has to offer.

To understand these elements in brief, download our one-pager outlining the four concepts brands need to grasp in order to fully control their media dollars. For a more extended discussion of these concepts, read on.

What is working media?

Working media is the portion of a brand’s campaign budget that goes to purchasing actual media placements. In the simplest terms, it’s the part of the budget that will make it into the hands of a digital publisher or app.

Traditionally, a brand marketer’s objective has been to hit their performance goals and net a substantial return on advertising spend (ROAS) by implementing the right mix of working- and non-working media. And while the end publisher is certainly a critical component of brands’ marketing campaigns, non-working media elements like smart campaign strategy, great creative, and effective data are also crucial for running full-funnel digital advertising campaigns that work.

Keys to understanding media allocation

The optimal mix of spend on publisher placements, brand creative, campaign strategy, and data will differ for a given campaign. An awareness campaign might require a little more creative development, and a little less purchase data. A direct response effort might require more purchase data, and be somewhat agnostic to publisher placements.

Brands should be able to adjust this mix based on the goals and requirements of a given campaign, but having the transparency into their campaign spend necessary for making those adjustments will likely require some work. What do brands need to do in order to ensure a clean starting point?

1.Understand who’s buying on their behalf

Brands should conduct a full buyer audit. With so many buying entities in the automation ecosystem, including different agency partners, agency trading desks, demand side platforms, and ad networks, it’s both possible – and common – for brands to consistently bid against themselves, often for the same target audiences and inventory. In our systems, we’ve seen brands with dozens of buying entities bidding on their behalf.

The consequence is inflated prices and fees, which means less money for brands to dedicate to working media or any of the other campaign elements they’d like to fund. This can also muddle brands’ insight into the effectiveness of all elements of campaign spend, causing the brand to port bad insights into other portions of their buys, as opposed to getting smarter about campaign strategy and media spend allocation over time.

2.Get clear on audiences

Because digital audiences can be bought in many contexts, brands’ ability to understand who they’re buying across all publishers and platforms can ensure their buying strategy isn’t duplicative.

Once you’ve figured out who’s buying on your half, next determine how. Are those buying entities using first party data, third party data, or publisher data, and what audience segments are they using? How much overlap is there, and how well does their use of data map to your overall goals?

3.Control the mechanisms of audience engagement

Ultimately, brands want to control the end consumer’s experience with their campaigns. In addition to placements and creative, this requires controlling elements like frequency and pacing across the entirety of the buy. You can’t manage frequency and pacing effectively for media that is bought outside of your consolidated automated advertising platform.

Asses how much of the digital media that’s being purchased on your behalf is purchased through unified buying systems. Determine the percentage of media for which you’re able to control reach and frequency across all buying methods. Then, figure out how you can bring more of your digital media into a single buying platform. Remember that direct-sold media can be purchased on automated platforms, like Rubicon Project’s Order’s platform.

4.Minimize errors

Human error can thwart even the best-laid digital advertising plans, and faulty implementation can degrade both campaign execution and insights into what the campaign did or did not achieve. This will in turn have negative downstream effects on future campaigns.

Work with your primary buying partners to understand what steps they need to take to launch campaigns, and which of those steps is particularly error-prone. Discuss what options exist for automation.

Getting a handle on these four areas will put brands in a great position to control the allocation of their media dollars among the elements they value. It’s a critical first step to creating effective full-funnel digital marketing campaigns.


To read these recommendations in brief, download our one-pager about how to get a better handle on your media dollars. For an assessment, contact your Rubicon Project account manager, or visit

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