We have a problem, folks. And I, for one, think we should start to fix it by killing off the CPM, once and for all.

All campaigns start with the best of intentions: “let’s do something creative, engaging, and unique!” But unless someone really senior from the agency or client side intervenes, the road for a campaign always leads to the media buyer and the dreaded spreadsheet, where the two most important columns are impressions and cost. Ironically, there’s usually some good stuff in campaigns, but they are thrown in for free as “value adds.” At some point, publishers decide that if all clients care about is impressions, then OK, we’ll give them impressions. The output is an industry that overproduces shallow, superficial, commoditized impressions. Why do we have so many bad sites that republish the same junky content–content that’s often made by machines or $1-per-post contractors? Why do sites intentionally try to get us to turn lots of pages with tons of top 10 lists, photo galleries, or single-paragraph summaries of someone else’s story?

Why is the CPM such a problem?

* You always get what you pay for. I believe in basic economics. If you pay for impressions, you get impressions. Is that, in the end, what marketers really want? How about engagement? How about impact? How about actually selling product? A glut of impressions has helped no one.
* All impressions are not created equally. There’s a big difference between seeing an ad on a page of content that contains one uninteresting paragraph and twelve ads, and seeing a single ad on a page that is relevant to the ad and covers a topic for which the user is highly passionate and engaged. The differences between social network and content inventory is another example–how do you put those items on the same spreadsheet?

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