What Allianz has learnt from its test-and-learn approach to online media buying

Insurance group's senior media planner shares the journey to embracing online video and how it's changing conceptions of audiences, data and creative


Allianz’s test and learn approach to online video advertising is not only helping the brand understand what publishers and platforms are the best for reaching prospective customers, it’s changing the way teams think about data, audiences and creative, its senior media planner, Mark Dawson, says.

Speaking to CMO during the recent Adobe Summit in Las Vegas, Dawson shared learnings from insurance giant’s quest to embrace and optimise media across next-generation connected TV and online video, and how it’s changing the way in which the team is thinking about audience engagement.

Allianz brought in all digital marketing in-house about 18 months ago and began using Adobe Advertising Cloud for paid search advertising. At the same time, the team started working with online video programmatic vendor, TubeMogul, which was subsequently acquired by Adobe in November 2016 for US$540 million.

In terms of online video, test and learn has been the mantra. 2017 was about understanding how inventory is priced and works, how Advertising Cloud interacts with the community of publishers, what CPMs can be expected across desktop, tablet and mobile, and the opportunities to buy specific audiences, Dawson said.

This year, the emphasis has been on bedding down a media strategy that takes advantage of such learnings. “We know which audiences we’re targeting, which publishers we want to work with, and we’re looking to leverage other Adobe technology we have to maximise and optimise our campaigns,” Dawson said.

Getting started

To kick things off, the media team gave the system a set budget across desktop, tablet, connected TV, publishers to gauge performance and costs. From there, it determined key publishers to work with – 7, 9, 10 and SBS – and started investigating optimum splits across desktop, tablet and mobile based on where Allianz’s key audiences are watching video.

Initially, campaigns were running 6am to midnight. But with most of its traditional TV budget going to primetime, Allianz discovered connected TV audiences could also be best addressed during the same times.

“We found the CPMs were pretty stable, and there was a big audience watching connected TV during primetime hours that we just weren’t reaching on free-to-air,” Dawson explained. “That got us thinking of online video as complementing TV buys.”  

Since then, the team has gone further, refining budget to connected TV devices on a big screen that reflect a TV-like experience. “It’s cost efficient for us and we’ve done a few tests to see if we can track back activity that we buy on a connected TV device back to conversion or sales on mobile device or PC within that household,” Dawson said.

“Those few beta tests see us look beyond the CPM of publishers and to what the average purchase value is across users who’ve seen an ad and gone to buy.”

In contrast to the way Allianz buys specific shows on traditional TV, it’s also found OTT is best aimed at specific audiences, not necessary one show’s viewers. That became apparent when purchasing online inventory for The Bachelorette.

“We’ve measured audience duplication across that show versus everything else we were doing and found audience duplication across 7,9,10 outside that test is pretty low. They are fairly unique audiences on each. But applied to specific shows, there was a high degree of audience duplication. We were paying more for audiences we were naturally reaching anyway,” Dawson said.

“Had we not had that data, we may have continued to invest a lot of money in specific shows online video we don’t need to, as we’re reaching those audiences on other shows.”

Another test was about ascertaining best CPMs. “One of the tests we did with Adobe was tracking average sale value by device and publisher,” Dawson said. “That has allowed us to better focus revenue on a particular publisher and device. We don’t have enormous budgets so we have to find the best options to drive sales.”

For Dawson personally, the last 18 months have been a journey to understand how TV planning and buying differs to traditional digital, and OTT’s place in the middle. Spend represents about 5-10 per cent of the brand’s total media budget.

“It’s not just the results we’re getting… In 2-3 years, it won’t be a matter of just performance, it’s actually where more and more of our audience is. We have to spend more on those platforms to reach them,” he said. “It’s an inevitable step. It’s why we went on this journey in the first place – we need to understand this and know about it.”

Related: Report: Social, online video and paid pushing ad spend growth

Rethinking data

Certainly from a digital point of view, the work is making Allianz think about data in a different way, Dawson said. He’s now talking to other publishers around what data they have in their data management platforms (DMP) that can be imported into Allianz’s platforms to better optimise media. One example is a publisher that has a lot of data on what cars people are looking to buy.

“We know if you’re going to buy a new car you’re probably going to buy insurance a week or so later. So we’re talking to them about buying data on people looking to buy a Toyota, not a Mercedes,” he said. “We can then use those segments to find people on desktop and mobile devices as a way of better optimising our media spend. In the past, you’d say we don’t know who is what, it’s just an audience online.”

In addition, Dawson is talking to different teams around the Allianz business about data sets to try and further improve media buying. “I’ve asked our technical and pricing team if you could pick the ideal audience, who would they be? And how can we leverage that? In the past, those conversations haven’t been as practical or actionable as we’re getting to now,” he added.  

The work on online video media buying is also starting to transform conversations internally about creative production.

“This began as a digital test and was seen as a technology thing. Now we’re learning the things we can do with it, it’s coming full circle and creative teams are asking what it means for creative,” Dawson said. “If we can now show different ads to different people and they’re TV ads, what does that mean? We haven’t answered that yet. But the creative team is getting excited about how we could start creating multiple ads for these more segmented audiences.”

Dawson saw his own role as sharing audience insights back to creative as well as the wider marketing function. “It has bigger implications for the brand – questions we’ll spend the next three years thinking about,” he said.

Executive shift and next steps

Tie-ups between media, creative and digital are gaining momentum at Allianz thanks to the appointment of Allianz’s CMO and former Telstra marketer, Nick Adams, six months ago. Dawson said teams are being restructured to ensure more integration of traditional digital and IT website media skills with creative.

Meanwhile, his priority is making better use of data at Allianz’s disposal, and tying that back to website experience and digital asset experience itself.

“We know you’ve been looking at car sites when you come to our website, you see us promoting car insurance. That’s about a better understanding of where our customers and audiences are in their purchase cycle and delivering a digital experience to that,” he said.  

Dawson admitted some insights from online video have been a surprise. “We went in not knowing what to expect. The beta test we did  was a first in-market test to show what this has done,” he said.

“There is a lot of testing and learning to do, but that’s giving us confidence there are insights we can glean beyond putting X amount of dollars on connected TV and ticking the box. We can see the business results and start to determine more of this, less of that.”  

  • Nadia Cameron travelled to Adobe Summit as a guest of Adobe.

Follow CMO on Twitter: @CMOAustralia, take part in the CMO conversation on LinkedIn: CMO ANZ, join us on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/CMOAustralia, or check us out on Google+:google.com/+CmoAu   

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