Cost Per Engagement is a Mirage

We all want to engage audiences, so much so that an entire online video industry has been built around trying to measure and sell engagement. However, there is big difference between cause and effect. Engagement is an effect.

The cause that creates the desired effect is targeting (i.e., making sure as a marketer that you’re having a dialogue with the right audience). Through the use of robust data, media vendors can claim to guarantee cause — if a brand agrees to pay a certain CPM, they’ll reach X number of females 18-24.
So here’s the rub — no one can guarantee that a consumer will engage with an ad (the effect), and you can’t sell what you can’t guarantee. Cost-per-engagement pricing can be very effective, but know what you’re buying and beware of video ad networks and aggregators that  say they can guarantee engagement, particularly when they say they can do so on premium sites.
If you can’t guarantee engagement, you certainly can’t guarantee engagement only on certain sites. However, some players in the industry have tried to do just that – guarantee engagement on premium sites. As these players have gradually realized the flaw in their logic, they’ve adjusted their offerings – now pivoting to offer audience targeting and more data analytics. They know they can’t just offer premium placements anymore. Welcome to the party, folks. What took you so long?
Successful digital marketers will tell you that what is important to them is that they reach their audience, achieve their desired brand metrics, and generate and measure brand lift and favorability. Sophisticated advertisers know to be skeptical if they’re being sold premium and data as a package deal. That could be possible for some campaigns if it just so happens that your desired audience is spending all its time exclusively on premium sites, but that certainly can’t be guaranteed.
The point is, you can’t sell engagement if you can’t control it. You can sell targeting with better data (and hope for preferred engagement). And if you’re selling targeting, you can’t guarantee “premium” inventory.
Be wary of anyone who says you can, and be conscious of pivots in messaging. Perhaps these ad networks aren’t delivering what they thought they could. Targeting can help advertisers focus on engaging the right consumer at the right time with a powerful video message. That doesn’t mean that you’re guaranteed engagement on quote-unquote premium placements. So beware of networks and aggregators who promise engagement and premium, and make sure you know what you’re really buying.
Bryon Evje is the evp of sales and business development at SpotXchange, an online video exchange marketplace.
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