Of the many ways ad agencies and research firms pitch themselves, actually buying ads in the media they use or measure for clients is rare -- particularly TV. But in a possibly unprecedented example of a marketing-services firm putting its money where its mouth is -- or vice versa -- analytics firm C3Metrics is running direct-response TV ads on entertainment and sports programming and winning attention from clients and new business as a result.
Part of what makes the campaign noticeable is the proposition -- a free trial of C3Metrics analytics services for attributing sales lift from TV ads up to 50 brands monthly with TV budgets of at least $5 million. (It's not limited to one per company, as each brand at a behemoth like Procter & Gamble Co. would qualify separately.) The campaign has attracted enough interest since it began at low media levels in September that the firm is now putting $250,000 behind it monthly, said Chief Operating Officer Jeff Greenfield.
The strategy sprang from discussions between Mr. Greenfield and C3Metrics CEO Mark Hughes, who previously founded Half.com, an online retailer perhaps best known for getting Halfway, Ore., to change its name to Half.com, Ore. Within six months of the 1999 publicity stunt, eBay bought Half.com for $300 million.
Mr. Hughes and Mr. Greenfield, himself a longtime buzz-marketing consultant, wanted something similar to make C3Metrics stand out from the clutter. And they saw their biggest competitors as Google and Nielsen, "who can outspend us 1,000 to one at every conference we go to," Mr. Greenfield said, but aren't using TV, at least not for b-to-b analytics services.
While C3Metrics does multi-media analysis to attribute sales lift from advertising, it's focused primarily on what's still the biggest media budget for many advertisers -- TV.
"We have clients spending up to $100 million a year on TV able to optimize down to a spot level," Mr. Greenfield said. "So we thought if this is working for them, there's got to be a way to make it work for us, even if our audience is much smaller. TV is still in our minds the most powerful medium out there."
C3Metrics has tweaked ad creative at least a dozen times in the past year based on its findings and refined its TV buys using its own system.
One of the clients won as a result is PillPack, a Portsmouth, N.H.-based startup preparing a TV campaign behind its concierge-style service that deals with doctors and insurers to get prescriptions filled, then puts them in easy-to-track and use packaging. Though PillPack is based not far from C3Metrics headquarters in New Hampshire, Director of Acquisition and Analytics A.J. Resnick actually discovered the firm from one of its TV ads that ran during June's broadcast of the NBA draft.
"I'm very familiar with the attribution space," he said, but C3 "wasn't on my radar." Mostly PillPack has been using post-click online metrics from Google and Facebook, but Mr. Resnick said he knows the firm needs to use other media, including radio and TV, to expand.
"An attribution company doing TV is the kind of company we want to work with as a brand, because they're able to know what's working and what's not," he said. Most marketing-attribution firms today, he said, are focused on helping "rightsize wrong digital media buying, but my goal is to work with someone who knows how to leverage cross-platform, TV in particular."
Mr. Resnick said he was impressed, among other things, by C3Metrics buying direct-response time on a program people tend to keep on for extended periods in the background while they do other things. Another C3Metrics client, WPP's DRTV media shop, Eicoff, Chicago, discovered C3Metrics when an executive saw the ad during the NFL draft in April.
Crossmedia, another media agency, has been using C3Metrics for two years -- with retail and other clients, some spending less than $10 million a year on media. The smaller clients help prove that even relatively small spenders can afford attribution analytics, said Crossmedia Managing Director Lee Beale.
Though he learned of Crossmedia through a webinar, not TV, Mr. Beale appreciates the novelty of an analytics firm actually trying what it measures.
"They're very transparent in what they do and how they do it," Mr. Beale said. "Unlike other modeling and attribution shops, they admit caveats and assumptions and weakness, because there's no God-given version of the truth."