‘The False Allure of a Premium Panacea’ by Carl Nelvig, VP of Product Development, Burt

Let’s face it. We’re an industry that loves a good buzzword. We latch on to certain terms as if our careers – our very lives – depended on it. A couple of industry visionaries get to talking about some trend and we seize on it like it’s Gospel. Next thing you know, lunch tables and water coolers around the industry are abuzz with what promises to be the next big thing.

However of all the buzzwords we hear (and admittedly incorporate into our lexicon), perhaps the most trite and overused is ‘premium’. Premium gets bandied about like a Justin Bieber song lyric, and we’re so fascinated by the guy and his manicured hair, we overlook the fact he can’t sing (sorry Justin).

In our circles at Burt, we regularly hear, “I only buy premium placements for my campaigns,” or “This is a premium ad network,” or “We only work with premium sites,” or, my personal favorite, “We have both premium and non-premium placements.” The term ‘premium’ is so overused in so many contexts we no longer know what it means.

Perhaps the most common misconception is that something is premium because of its high price. Wrong. Another popular concept relates to the reputation of the site on which the ad runs. Nope. Then there are those who argue what makes premium is a specific audience. Wrong again. Still others assert it’s the quality of the media placement. Sorry. You don’t win the lovely five-piece living room set.

What makes things premium is YOU, as premium is a subjective term and, like beauty, it’s in the eye of the beholder. There’s no one-size-fits-all definition of premium – premium is only as premium as what you define it to be. Giving every single ad placement a ‘premium’ designation not only dilutes value by commoditising what was once a valuable asset, it undermines the promise of digital and obstructs the flow of dollars our way. We need to end our fixation with the word ‘premium’ and start dealing in harder, more well-defined terms.

Here’s what I humbly recommend.

Let’s establish a set of guidelines of what defines a premium solution or placement so not every Tom, Dick and Harry can call what they have premium. We can simply define the term – like we did for outdoor, or digital display or paid search. We define and grade meat...and milk...and hotel rooms, and all manner of other things. Thus, it would seem to me we ought to be able to define and grade placements. It can’t be that hard.

Keep in mind though, setting up a bunch of rules won’t get us to Valhalla. We first need to understand the true nature of premium as a concept, and then and only then can we set rules around it. It’s not just those performing best earn the designation premium, rather we need to establish premium as a relevant and valid cross-platform category.

So, now that we agree there is no single definition of premium, but rather a custom set of properties for the advertiser or campaign in question, let me try to establish a few ground rules. Here’s a first stab:

Ø Choose media and formats based on campaign goals: brand building vs. direct response: right frequency and right media quality. (For deeper insights in media quality, you can check out my previous post.)

Ø Define your target audience and make sure the chosen media meets these requirements: right people.

Ø Make sure the ads are placed in a suitable context in order to be integrated naturally with the content, in other words ads are native: right audience at the right time.

Then, let’s caucus with our friends at the IAB so digital media companies will agree to make standard IAB formats part of a more native user experience. As we shouldn’t muddy the waters with vacuous terms, so too should we not create confusion with amorphous formats. In our push towards sponsored content and native, with native being the most promising thing we’ve seen in a decade, let’s not reinvent the wheel. Let’s use what we’ve got in the traditionally accepted ad formats.

Finally, just as a quick and hopefully fun exercise, consider this: Based on what we just discussed about content and audience, I ask you, dear reader, is this article ‘premium’?

Well, if you’re a digital marketer buying or selling media properties and you’ve read this far, I’ve hopefully inspired you to rethink how you perceive the concept of premium. Thus, it’s fair to say, based on the aforementioned definitions, this article is definitely PREMIUM CONTENT. However, if you disagree, that’s perfectly fine too, as you might not think the late Jon Lord of Deep Purple was the God of rock music either. (Sorry again, Justin.)