While my colleagues are jetting off to advertising conventions for panel discussions and cocktail parties in exotic locations, I’m stuck back in the office working on a different kind of convention: placement naming conventions. But I’m not bitter.

What is a Placement Naming Convention?

If you’re in digital advertising, you’ve probably already experienced placement naming conventions—those nasty long strings of codes you see in the placement name field in your ad delivery platforms.

Here’s an example of a placement naming convention:

You can probably guess the first part of this string “NYT” is short for “New York Times.” Is “HRECT” short for “Horizontal Rectangle?” Those numbers, 300×250, must be the ad dimensions.

Why are Placement Naming Conventions so important?

These cryptic strings of codes are entered into the placement name field when trafficking ads on your ad server, DSP, ad buying tool, or marketing platform–we’ll call these “advertising platforms” for the remainder of this article. Since the placement name is just a text field, it does not drive any real functionality in the advertising platform. So why bother creating these elaborate placement names?

All the magic happens when the advertisements start to run…

To evaluate advertising performance, somebody from the analytics team pulls data from the advertising platform to report on impressions, clicks, conversions, views, and other supported metrics.  However, out of the box, you can’t “slice and dice” this data from your platform because it doesn’t contain all the data fields you need to analyze.

For example, suppose you want to analyze performance by advertising tactic. Unfortunately, your advertising platform doesn’t have a specially coded field for “Tactic” that contains all your choices.  The workaround is–you guessed it–to put “Tactic” into the placement name.

What about all the other missing dimensions of advertising performance you need to analyze? Every one of them can be coded into the placement name.  However, due to the limited space in the placement name field we are required to compress all the values into short coded versions to squeeze them all in there.

The first thing your analytics team does when they pull the performance data from your advertising platforms is parse the placement name and load it into their designated database fields that link to their decoded values.

Now they can run all those amazing and insightful reports.

What should go into a Placement Name?

Placement names should contain any data you need for reporting that is not already sourced from a designated field in your advertising platform. Since most advertising platforms are quite limited in this area, you’ll need to stuff a lot of intelligence into the placement name field.

One way to create Placement Naming Conventions

One way to construct placement names is with Microsoft Excel.  Here is how:

  • Create a “Placement Naming” spreadsheet with a column for each of the fields
  • In the same workbook, add other lookup spreadsheets that enumerates the valid values for each of the fields on the first spreadsheet and its associated codes
  • Apply Excel data validation to each of the columns on the Placement Naming spreadsheet to ensure that users select from the valid list
  • Finally, add a “Placement Name” column to the Placement Naming Spreadsheet. This is a calculated field which connects the coded versions of each of the fields using Excel functions CONCATENATE, VLOOKUP, IF, and other Excel wizardry.

Your spreadsheet will look something like this:

The key to all of this is the excel formula that constructs the naming convention.  In this example, our formula is

This formula may seem complicated, but actually it’s relatively simple compared to formulas that you’ll find at some ad agencies.

Want a copy of this template? Download the sample Placement Naming Conventions Template.

The problems with Excel-based naming conventions

  • Extra steps. This adds extra steps to the process of setting up your placements. The media planning process is already complicated enough. You don’t need any extra steps.
  • Transcription errors. Even with the perfect spreadsheet, there’s a good chance that users will re-key data incorrectly and create the wrong placement name.
  • Clunky Excel UI. Excel has many awesome features, but data validation lookups are not among them. There’s no typeahead and the list picker is slow and annoying.
  • Fragile and confusing formulas. The Excel formula for calculating the placement name gets very confusing very fast. Often the only person that understands it is the person who created it. Whenever you touch it, you waste hours deciphering and it’s almost impossible to avoid breaking the formula when you make a change.
  • Hard to update. Once this spreadsheet is in use, it’s difficult to make a change. It’s hard to keep everyone on the same version resulting in inconsistent naming.
  • Difficult to maintain. Keeping the lookups up-to-date and accurate is a daily burden, especially for lists of websites and advertising offerings.
  • Hard to be consistent. Although you might have your own standard, some of your clients will require you follow a different standard. You need be able to maintain and enforce numerous standards and be smart enough to know which spreadsheet to use given the situation.

Do you have other problems to add to this list?

A better way to implement Placement Naming Conventions

Good media planning software will streamline creating and implementing perfect placement names. With this automation, your process will be 100% automated and fool-proof. You can:

  • Add all the fields you need for reporting along with the set of valid values and codes.
  • Create media plan templates with these fields.
  • Implement your naming conventions and install it instantly across your entire organization.
  • Customize the naming conventions for special clients
  • Deploy a media planning interface to enforce all your standards
  • Automate loading placement names into your advertising platforms

Bionic creates perfect naming conventions as part of its media planning software, which also automates dozens of other tedious media planning tasks that steal your time and energy.

If naming conventions are giving you a headache, maybe it’s time for you to try Bionic.