Citi Targets Small Publishers For Fresh Ad Inventory

citi-pondsCiti is aiming smaller to get bigger results with its digital marketing campaigns.

The bank enlisted the help of CJ Affiliate, the affiliate marketing network formerly known as Commission Junction and part of Conversant (formerly ValueClick), to target ads beyond aggregators of credit card offers. Those aggregators are a staple of credit card marketing campaigns, and command premium rates from banks for ads.

Chase, Citi, Discover, American Express and Bank of America all target credit card offer aggregators, some of which can drive over 50% conversions for a particular card and cost a bank upwards of $1 million in ad space per month. In short there isn’t enough messaging space to go around.

“There is limited inventory that all of the key competitors are vying for,” said Leigh Jacobson, director of digital marketing for U.S. consumer banking at Citi. “We were looking for new, cost effective distribution opportunities in order to be able to grow our program.”

CJ Affiliate analyzed five years of data within its affiliate network to find spikes in purchasing activity in verticals outside of finance. “We know that there is a connection between purchasing activity in other verticals and demand for credit cards,” Jacobson said.

For one campaign, Citi targeted travel publishers. Of the over 70,000 publishers CJ Affiliate works with, many are in the travel vertical including comparison-shopping engines such as Expedia and Priceline as well as hundreds of hotels and car rental companies. The company uses a direct sales model that is pay-for-performance, with ads served directly to publisher sites. CJ Affiliate is not using real-time-bidding or retargeting in its campaigns.

“We’re able to look at the travel category in general, within our overall network, and see when spikes occur over the course of a year,” said Kerri Pollard, president of CJ Affiliate. Looking at clicks and conversions, CJ found travel bookings tend to increase at the end of March. Citi then promoted an existing Hilton Hotels credit card offer with ad space on travel publishers during this time.

The basic idea is to find spikes in consumer activity within a certain category, and target that category with relevant offers. Doing this allows Citi to buy ads at a lower rate than what’s available on credit card offer aggregators.

“The benefit of small publishers is we tend to be able to get conversions at a much more cost effective price,” Jacobson said. “It also reduces our risk because we’re not bound by the competitive environment as much,” in terms of paying higher rates for limited ad inventory on credit card offer aggregator sites.

CJ Affiliate president Kerri Pollard said the next focus will be on back-to-school purchasing activity. As with travel spending, an uptick in consumer spending in one area typically coincides with a spike in demand for credit, Pollard said.

For its work in aiming its offers at smaller publishers, CJ Affiliate boasts a $510,000 savings on Citi’s marketing budget for the year. The strategy is one the bank said is ongoing in targeting sectors with spikes in consumer activity.

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