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Day Parting Primer

This is the third part in a series on The Basics of Online Advertising. I’ll be posting a new entry each week for the next four or five weeks – or maybe I’ll just keep goin’!

What is day parting?

Day parting a campaign restricts the campaign to serving only during certain times of the day. Day parting typically takes the form of a serving window between particular hours; a setting may have a starting hour and a stopping hour. The campaign serves normally between the hours, but doesn’t serve at all outside of them. Day parting is not the same as a start and stop time for a campaign. When a campaign is day-parted it will serve during the “on” hours every day the campaign is scheduled to run.

Why use day parting?It helps to visualize a clock when thinking about day parting.

Day parting can be useful for several reasons. Some campaigns depend on call centers being open; if the call to action is to make a phone call to get a mortgage or hire an accountant for taxes it’s important that most of the users interested in such services can actually reach a person when they call. If the call center is closed there’s a significant drop in the performance of the campaign. Most people don’t write themselves a note to call that number again in the morning.

Often times a campaign will perform better during a particular time of day. Day parting can be used as an optimization tactic to capitalize on that performance window. Campaigns for a social media service, for example, might do better between 5pm and 7pm assuming that people wait until their workday is over to play around on social media web sites.

In many cases a campaign will be scheduled as to exclude sleeping hours. As with television, branded campaigns will run from 7am until 11pm and avoid the insomniacs. As the world of online advertising moves more toward programmatic buying it will be possible to end up with RonCo style ads running after hours while the big brands take up the daytime.

How is day parting implemented?

Assuming the advertising system supports it, day parting controls hopefully reside in the campaign setup area with a start and end time. In more sophisticated systems there may even be checkboxes for particular windows of time or even hours of the day. Checking the desired hours will cause the campaign to run during each 60 minute segment of time.

How clever does it get?

Day parting can be leveraged to achieve some very sophisticated campaign activity. Consider a scenario where the campaign goal is to expose ads to the target audience in the morning and the evening, but no more than three times in each window. Obviously a frequency cap will be used as well. There are two options to consider. If the system supports hour base frequency caps then a single campaign running in the morning, 7am to 10am, and the evening, 6pm to 11pm, with a frequency cap of 3 per 4 hour period. If the system can only support frequency caps by day then the campaign will need to be split in two. The first campaign will run from 7am to 10am and have a frequency cap of three per day. The second campaign will run from 6pm to 11pm and, again, have a frequency cap of three per day. In the second scenario the frequency caps are tied to the individual campaigns so a user can still see the same ad up to six times per day, but from two distinct campaigns. Using two campaigns also allows creatives to taylored for the time of day.

How does day parting interact with other controls?

Day parting works well with frequency capping, but daily caps can prove to be a challenging component to add. Pacing algorithms that work on a day basis and rely on daily caps may cause under delivery of campaigns using day parting. The algorithms may take certain things for granted, like the notion that the campaign is going to be running for the entire day. In some cases the algorithm will exhibit wild delivery behavior.

Audience targeted campaigns may have a hard time reaching their targets if the targeted user group doesn’t browse the site inventory at the hours the campaign is set to run. Most inventory reports don’t break out hourly audience behavior so it could be hit or miss. This might be a rare scenario, but it has probably caused a few calls to tech support.

Overall day parting can be a powerful tool if the system is built to behave appropriately. In the era of real-time bidding there’s more diversity in the systems with day parting capabilities and the sophisticated logic required to mix it with other controls. Day parting has become a standard tool in the campaign control toolbox.

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