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.