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IdeaBar: Adline – Priceline for Online Advertising

Booking travel for this past weekend, I was reminded of the brilliance of the business model that Priceline pioneered for travel booking.  In an industry where prices were known to fluctuate and most transactions followed a simple search -> buy -> sell model, they let the buyers set their price and allowed the sellers to decide if the price was acceptable.  That alone was not the brilliant part, though.  What Priceline inherently understood is that no seller would participate in a model like that unless they knew that their sales from other channels were safe from this price-focused approach.  So Priceline hides the identities of the sellers until you complete your purchase.  Simple, useful and innovative.

I read an interesting piece in a marketing trade talking about how advertisers were planning for the new year given there was likely to be an election year spending frenzy on television ads that would drive prices up and availability lower.  Scott Berg from HP was interviewed in BusinessWeek and made an interesting point about how advertisers need to be flexible.  His strategy is to move more spending online and leave standing orders at lower rates with regional TV stations to fill their ad slots once regional candidates drop out of races and leave more availability.  This is essentially the same model as Priceline – set your price and let the merchant accept or decline it.

So what about online advertising?  Most of that is sold on an inventory vs. expected traffic model, and for popular sites, it is sold far ahead of time.  As more and more do it yourself models of online advertising become popular (Federated Media, BlogAds, Google Adwords, and Facebook being the most notable examples), the idea of last minute advertising is not so hard to imagine.  What if there was a site like Priceline for online advertising (let’s call it Adline, for fun)?  You could enter your flight dates, the demographic details of where you are trying to reach, the type of placement, and the maximum CPM you are willing to pay.  Placements would need to be rated on some sort of neutral system so you would not be overpaying for obscured inside page placements, as well as by relative visibility of the site, but the idea is that I could decide to do a five star ad unit on a five star site and set my own CPM.  The site could choose to accept or dcline my offer.  Could something like this work?

About the Idea Bar:  Working in a creative team, the life of our business is new ideas.  We come up with them every day for clients, but sometimes there are ideas that just don’t fit a client.  They are too big, too different, or just not quite right. Inspired by John at Digital Influence Mapping Project, the IdeaBar is a category of posts that are meant to be "open source" and offer new ideas for marketing.  Take them and use them … all I ask for is a link back to this post if you find these ideas useful and talk about them.  Read more IdeaBar posts on this blog.

  • Andrea Wren

    Hi Rohit,

    I came to your site after doing a search looking for advice on marketing Facebook groups (as I’ve just started one related to my new online business), and I found your post on this topic (helpful, thanks!).

    I’ve become very interested in the subject of influential marketing, particularly online, so think I could be a frequent visitor to your blog here!

    Could ‘Adline’ work then? I don’t see why not. Surely it would work on a similar basis of reciprocity as Adwords does, as well as giving both advertiser and publisher the opportunity to buy in or out on an individual basis.

  • Dave Weinberg


    Adline is a great idea and several sites are already building towards this in different respects. I’ll bet ebay itself or google are looking into this as a next step.

    The Rubicon Project (link to – I think still in Beta) lets publishers mix and mash thier ad accounts, wether with adsense, ad bright or other to reach the highest payout per click.

    GeniusRocket (full disclosure – I work there, – allows advertisers and marketing manager to use crowd-sourcing to lower their costs of production. Our clients submit RFBs (requests for brilliance) for video, graphic design or any other creative need and our professional creative community, which now numbers in the thousands, competes for the monetary award. We see it as a win-win, clients pay far less that a traditional advertiser and our community gets the chance to work on major accounts and earn a decent amount.

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  • David Webb

    Well, this is exactly how it works man, if you are advertiser, you make your campaign, you configure where this ad will be shown, you may even configure daytime in some networks (like adbrite i guess). But the thing is that if we will take a good website, for example about hybrid cars, and let’s say it has most visitors coming from search engines, less are constant readers. Let’s say this website don’t have a product or service for sale (just like the most websites). And it is earning money from contextual advertising (adsense,adbrite), related affiliate products (CJ, clickbank), and selling links. Most money this website will make with Contextual advertising, because it will get guaranteed advertiser. There is no guarantee someone will come and advertise on your website. But in the whole system there are alot of people who have products about hybryds, and want to get people to see them, they need to advertise on sites like yours, they will do this thru adsense. Ofcourse there is a tactic to advertise on low quality sites, but this won’t bring you much visitors.

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    Wonderful post.I reckon a lot of the credit for the success of Priceline’s deals goes to William Shatner who did a great job of putting a human face and something which people can identify with.The Travel Sites all have tons of traffic, and should be advertising revenue more aggressively.How much sense would it make for an online agency to buy a metasearch company?