Rob Frankel - Branding Expert

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Fun With Numbers: the Combination Buy.

A really, really long time ago, my grandfather told me a joke:

A man walks into a restaurant and sees a really cute waitress. So cute, in fact, he forgets all about his meal and proposes marriage right on the spot. The waitress thinks he's crazy. After all, she's 20 years old and he's 40. Half his age. The guy says, "Don't sweat it, you'll catch up." The waitress is totally confused and asks him how she'll catch up to him.

"Look," he says, "now you're 50% my age, but in ten years, you'll be 30 and I'll be 50. So you'll be 60% my age. And ten years after that, you'll be 40 and I'll be 60, which means you'll be 66% of my age. If we give it enough time, you'll catch up."

Okay, so it's corny, but my grandfather was a shoe salesman, not a comedian. The point is that the guy in the restaurant could be selling advertising space on the web if he weren't so busy chasing underage waitresses. I haven't seen so many tricks with numbers since they ran the old demon drills back in junior high math. (Remember those? Some greasy-haired math teacher with a bow tie would get up in front of the class and start rapid-firing numerals and operators, while a bunch of twelve year odds were supposed to listen and calculate the correct final result. If you were really good at math, you'd track this plus that divided by this-to-the-third-power. If you were a slacker, you'd just listen for the phrase "multiplied by zero" and start adding from there).

In any case, you should be aware that lots of media salespeople are coming up with all kinds of creative ways to play with numbers that you should know about -- and avoid. The latest gimmick to make the rounds if the Combination Buy, which mixes conventional media with web. It's an intriguing idea -- and can even be effective -- but you've got know which traps to avoid:

BAIT & SWITCH: This trick started out with print media, but is fast catching on with television media, too. This is when the magazine or TV station builds a website and then doesn't know how to make money with it. So they offer you a combination deal: they sell you advertising space on their website for a price and throw in a couple of print or TV ads for a drastically reduced rate.

This is a great trick for bookkeepers, but not for advertisers. Because what's really happening here is that you're paying for established TV or print, with the web space thrown in. Sure, they're billing you for web space, but they're doing it to justify their web rates to other unsuspecting advertisers. And who can blame them? If you took away the combination buys of TV or print that came with their web package, how many pure web advertisers do you think they'd have?

Hint: it's an integer with an absolute value of less than one.

HITS & REQUESTS: Another strange trick performed with numbers is the always-fascinating, never-consistent "hit rate". I get loads of media reps telling me about how many hits per day their sites get, but do I care? Certainly not. Especially when hits can be counted for every single element that loads on to a page. You can have one page with 500 GIF files and the old ticker is going to whack out 500 hits just for loading it one time. I usually go by the more conservative "page request" number, which is lower, but somewhat truer in its representation.

WATCH OUT FOR TRAFFIC: TV and print media reps often tell you that they'll use their own media to drive traffic to their own website. Which sounds great until you think about it R-E-A-L S-L-O-W: Let's see, the people who hear about the site on TV (or read about it in print) are the same people who are going to visit the site. Can you say "duplication of audiences"? I knew you could. Combination buys are supposed to cross-sell audiences in a synergistic -- not redundant -- way. Which is why I recommend that before a client accepts a combination buy, try to get a handle on which medium is carrying the heaviest part of the load. If the media rep can't show you how the website is augmenting the efforts of the companion TV or print ad, use this weakness to leverage more print or TV, or at least hammer down the rates.

Well, I can see by the digital clock on the screen that it's time to go. I'd tell you more, except that I have a lunch date with a media sales rep. It's at a really nice restaurant, where they always insist on picking up the check -- and underage waitresses.

Rob Frankel

Copyright 1997, FRANKEL & ANDERSON * Advertising, Marketing & Killer Creative * * Toll-Free in USA & Canada: 1-888-ROBFRANKEL * Telephone: 818-990-8623 * FAX: 413-778-0909 *

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