Early on in my agency career I wrote a 50-some page comprehensive guide to all of the biggest publishers and networks on the web.  Written in a world before DSPs, SSPs, and Exchanges, the guide included Yahoo, Microsoft, AOL, Collective, ValueClick, Specific Media, 24/7 Real Media, Interclick, and dozens of others.   It took me weeks to complete.  The purpose of the document was to educate our end-clients about the publisher and network universe and to help them understand how we made digital media buying decisions.  It was color printed on high quality paper, spiral bound, and distributed to all of our biggest clients.

In the back of the guide, I placed a glossary of terms that served as a cheat sheet to help our clients decipher publisher and network sales pitches.  Next to the word “Premium” I placed the following description:

“A meaningless term used by publishers and networks to deceive potential buyers and imply a false sense of quality.”

Looking back, that may have been a bit rough, but, at the time, it felt about right.  At that point in my agency career I hadn’t quite grasped the concept of “direct sold” vs. “remnant” and I had never even heard the terms “Class 1” or “Class 2” inventory.  My ignorance here certainty wasn’t from a lack of contact with publishers and networks.  Actually, a large portion of my education about online advertising came from the advertising sales community.  I received at least 50 meeting requests per month and met with, on average, five sales reps per week.  Out of the ~250 sales pitches I received each year, probably 99% none of them included the word “Premium” without any further explanation about the definition of the word.  The funny thing about words is, the more we hear them the less they mean.

I know that many people who say the word “Premium” have, in the back of their minds, some technical definition of the word that they hold as fact.  The problem here is that these individually held definitions rarely map accurately to anyone else’s definition of the word.  “Premium” has been so tattered and abused over the years that it no longer has any legitimate place in digital advertising.

Let’s take a cue from other industries here:


premium-saltine-crackers Jack Links Premium mcdspicy Premium Hanes Premium Ham Hoffy Premium Bacon


Premium means exactly the same thing in advertising as it does in every other industry:

Absolutely nothing.



“Premium” Blog Post
  • I take this as more on the “talk is cheap” message from your previous post (Disqus apparently ate my comment. I was, however, on the subway using my phone).

    If it doesn’t cost anything to do, then it loses meaning. Why? Because branding is all about signalling – a company uses a proxy of a thing to represent the thing (e.g. the word “executive” to denote quality). Over time, if the cost of the proxy disappears, it’s adopted by people who use the proxy but can’t afford the real thing, devaluing it entirely.

    An interesting place to look at this is where knowledge plays a role, i.e. a company uses certain words, or language, to demonstrate that it’s part of the “in group” for its target market. But, as that language becomes known outside of its target market, other companies also wishing to appeal to the market adopt it and it loses its signifying meaning.

  • Mike Nolet

    Hilarious..  completely agree that *self descriptive* premium inventory means nothing.

    On the other hand, if the top NY Times critic says my Ham is the best premium ham you can get… it’s kinda premium no?

  • Haha – I suppose you’re right.  Maybe the real issue here isn’t the word “premium” – but rather it’s deceptive sales practices.  You should be able to say “premium” – as long as you have evidence to back it up (like an endorsement from the NY Times).