Black Friday Drives RTB Up the Funnel

Display ad demand, prices jump over holiday weekend

It’s not surprising that demand for display ad inventory would spike ahead of and on two of the biggest shopping days of the year, Black Friday and Cyber Monday. But usually that demand would be fueled by online merchants trying to drive immediate e-commerce sales. Not this year, according to Casale Media, an ad network that specializes in display buys that happen in real time (aka real-time bidding).

Demand began to spike the Monday and Tuesday before Black Friday led by big-box retailer Kohl’s which placed “a huge awareness buy, not at an aggressive price point but they were buying everything,” said Casale Media’s vp of strategy Andrew Casale. Sears, Home Depot and JCPenney were three other retailers that Casale saw go whole-hog. But rather than the usual call-to-action driving users to a retailer’s e-commerce site to buy now, most of this year’s campaigns drove consumers offline by promoting the date and specific store info for upcoming in-store sales, said Casale.

Those upper-funnel-oriented buys help explain why the average number of bids per impression, or bid density, jumped 40 percent from the previous week but the price of the winning bid actually fell by 5 percent. As with Kohl’s, the advertisers were taking a spray-and-pray approach, said Casale. “We would see bids come through at a low-price point because the advertisers were not looking to hit a specific audience. They wanted to hit everybody and say to come to the store, but they didn’t want to pay a lot for that,” he said.

That changed as the week wore on. Both bid density and clearing prices peaked on Black Friday, increasing from the previous week by 70 percent and 30 percent respectively. Casale wouldn’t say what the average clearing price was on Black Friday but said that each impression averaged four bids versus the 2 to 2.5 it had received the prior week. Casale Media’s findings are based on bids placed across 4,000 publishers, including, GateHouse Media, Match Media and (the site that posted the half-billion-dollar lottery numbers Wednesday night).

Both bid density and clearing prices ebbed over the weekend following Black Friday—bottoming at 50 percent bid growth and under 20 percent clear price growth on the 25th—but rebounded on Cyber Monday when bids per impression ran back up to 60 percent and clear price matched its Black Friday peak at about 30 percent. “What happened on Cyber Monday was everyone wanted to be in front of their audience because they wanted people to transact at that moment,” Casale said, so those advertisers bid more aggressively. Meanwhile traditional brick-and-mortar retailers like Kohl’s and JCPenney had likely already made their sales targets on Black Friday and were less inclined to dump money into display ads.

“Black Friday had the benefit of both [upper- and lower-funnel buys]. We were seeing awareness campaigns but also seeing e-commerce retailers saying, ‘Skip the lines and buy now,’” Casale said.