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I’ll admit it. I’m an unabashed admirer of behavior-based digital advertising. I’m thrilled to know I can now make recommendations to clients knowing that every dollar I’m recommending they spend — to launch a new CPG product, for instance — is now reaching only the known buyers of that category. No longer are we wasting precious launch dollars on mass media that will largely reach folks who will never buy the category. And, I love the fact that we can carve up and customize messaging for those known category buyers — buyers of my competition (heavy, medium and light), buyers of my own franchise, lapsed buyers of my franchise, triers of my new product (gotta build a pattern of usage).

So, yeah, I love digital advertising for its ability to hyper-target the right people and for the ability it provides us to customize message and offer.

But when you add on the fact that we can now measure the ROI on digital ad spend for CPG products sold at brick-and-mortar retail, I can’t help but feel a little like Indiana Jones discovering the holy grail after decades of toil. It feels like the advertising industry is finally delivering on what clients have been long been seeking — every dollar spent reaching just the people willing to buy, and every dollar held accountable for being ROI positive.

However, my actual experience is often a lack of enthusiasm among CPG brand leaders, for more than token investments in digital media. When we share out the benefits outlined above, we often get some version of this question — “Yeah, but does it scale?”

We got this question from a CPG manufacturer recently whose category has 35% U.S. household penetration. I responded with the fact that I considered over 100 million addressable category buyers scale indeed. But I’m beginning to believe that there are less objective forces at work here, like:

  • If I don’t see it, it must not be working. This is why we used to put campaign billboards on the commute route between the CEO’s home and their downtown offices. The fact is a lot of the top folks approving media investments aren’t engaged in the media we’re recommending. And therefore, “it doesn’t scale,” meaning they’re not seeing it.
  • We’ve cried, “wolf” once too often. That is, we’ve been singing the praises of digital advertising for a long time now and most of what clients got back was gibberish — impressions, likes, engagement, time spent viewing — a lot of stuff that gets a CMO thrown out of the CEO’s office. Who cares about that crap?

Now, we’ve got proof of every dollar invested reaching only those willing to buy, and the ability to “close the loop” and demonstrate the true ROI of that digital ad investment on retail sales. And we’re often getting the door shut in our faces. What’s a digital-first marketer do?

Be patient. Acknowledge that skepticism from our clients is well earned. Look at behavior-targeted digital advertising as a baseline component of plans, and test overlays of traditional media for sales lift and ROI. Junk the intermediate metrics that only further the skepticism and cut to the only metrics that matter — ROI positive increases in net sales, share and HH Pen.

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Michael Bollinger
Michael Bollinger
President

With over 25 years in the advertising agency business, Michael is focused on building the consumer package goods agency of the future - today. One centered on the breakthrough brand storytelling skills of Smith Brothers' creative heritage, but delivered with the speed, efficiency and real-time optimization demanded by today's digital environment.

Michael joined Smith Brothers in 2005 as Director of Client Services, after spending the previous 20 years with DDB Worldwide where he was Senior Vice President, Group Account Director of the global agency's flagship, Chicago office.

Excited by Smith Brothers' creative firepower and entrepreneurial spirit, Michael joined the Smith Brothers’ team with a vision for delivering big agency resources on a dramatically more nimble and effective platform.

Under Michael's leadership the agency acquired digital agency, Hot Hand Interactive, in 2007. It added its Social Media practice in 2008. Developed an Analytics practice in 2009 and a Shopper Marketing practice in 2010.

Layered onto its existing strategic planning, creative and media capabilities, Smith Brothers is now a force in the CPG marketing world – working with brands like Nestle, Del Monte, Heinz, Ghirardelli, Red Bull, and more.

Michael holds a B.A. in English from Union College.