Ted Haller, Senior Media Strategist, Rooster Strategic Solutions

In the wee hours of the morning, when I have trouble sleeping at my home on the Florida-Georgia line, I like to stream “Coast to Coast with George Noory.” For the uninitiated, C2C is a clearinghouse for the paranormal and strange. I find it relaxing to listen to callers who believe that Bigfoot and wrestling are real while the moon landing was a hoax. Please don’t judge.

So, imagine my surprise last Saturday night when I heard two ads from a large ag company promoting a corn product. My first thought was that they made a mistake with their targeting. I’m not a farmer, I live a thousand miles from the nearest corn field, and I’ve never purchased a corn product. My second thought was that this was a common mistake that, with a little more expertise, this company shouldn’t have made.

Let’s give the company a break and assume that they weren’t buying the program or at the least it was overnight “bonus” as part of a slightly more targeted National “Fair and Balanced” Network buy that skews to Rural Men 35+. It’s obvious to anybody that Coast to Coast isn’t an agricultural program that would draw an abundance of farmers. Instead, it’s likely that the ad was specifically targeted to me since I was streaming the show, probably due to a cookie I picked up looking at ag websites. This kind of retargeting is an established feature in digital buys, and it’s a generally cost-effective way to reach folks who might be interested in your product. But in this case, I’ve been counted as two impressions in their January numbers. How many of me are out there, as opposed to actual farmer impressions?

With a little more work, this company could have narrowed that gap, and it’s a good case study for any agricultural company spending money on digital.

You get the targeting you deserve. We in the ag business are blessed with a number of quality third-party datasets, including those from USDA Nass and Farm Market iD. But if your digital agency works primarily with consumer products, they may not be aware of these. The best datasets for ag are those owned by print companies. Unfortunately, these are among the most expensive out there with up to high-three-figure CPMs. So, this digital agency, because they either weren’t aware of the better options available or because they wanted to cut their costs, chose an inferior dataset that found me at 3 in the morning listening to a riveting discussion on whether or not contrails in the sky are actually mind-controlling drugs dropped by an evil government-industrial complex. Not exactly the best use of their client’s money.

Start by asking the right questions. If you’re working with the right company, they’ll ask the right questions. If not, you should probably find a better company, or at least know which questions to ask when you’re setting up the program. Specifically:

What’s the geo-target? Even a consumer programmatic vendor should be able to help you target the right states, if not counties, based on your sales history and marketing plans. This alone would have ensured that money wouldn’t be wasted on people like me, a long way from the nearest corn field. In a few cases I’ve asked for reports by geography and found an inordinate number of impressions in Chicago, Los Angeles and New York, which led me to believe that the programmatic vendor in question was either criminally negligent, or more likely, just criminal.

What’s the time of day? Farming is a 7-day, sometimes 24-hours-per-day endeavor. But in my experience, farmers typically engage during the weekday and during normal business hours. There aren’t many farmers streaming at 3 in the morning, unless you’re trying to reach the dairy market.

Gender and age? Hobbies? Secondary occupations? Purchase decisions? There are any number of qualifying criteria you can choose to get as close to the farmer as possible. It takes more work, but isn’t that what you’re paying your programmatic partner to do?

And make sure to cap the impressions per unique so that you’re not paying gobs of money on the wrong guy. If I don’t hear any more ads like this one, I’ll give them credit. But what if I hear another 10, or 20, or 30? This might look good on the monthly statement showing the number of impressions, but it’s still a waste of the client’s money.

Ask for a report by day and compare that to your site analytics. If you’re told that 1,000 people are clicking on your website each day, you should see that spike. And don’t be satisfied with impressions and clicks. You should get more. I like to see individual reports by creative. For digital ads, I want heat maps showing how people interacted and what drove them to click; for streaming ads like this one I should see how many people visited the website within an hour of hearing the ad, and from where.

In short, use what you know about farmers and your audience to help your agency drive better results, and keep asking for more. It’s their job, after all. Or, if you’re not confident in your ability to drive the vendor, and they don’t know enough to help you, it might be time to find a new partner. Give me a call and I’ll be happy to give you a few suggestions – just as soon as I’m through listening to this program on Yetis.