Fenton Stephens

How zombie campaigns push Performance Max harder.

By Michael Blake, Senior Performance Manager, and Joanne Shin, Performance Manager, at Melbourne agency Fenton Stephens. 

Zombies, by and large, get a bad rap. Voracious, relentless if cumbersome predators, shuffling and gurgling on the far side of the fence as you frantically search for a fresh batch of shotgun shells to keep them at bay. 

But if you’re a marketer and you spend money on Google’s Performance Max, you might want to put down that weapon and think about getting the undead army on your side.  

You see, a well-calibrated zombie campaign is a handy tool in the marketer’s fight for the edge in performance marketing. 

Because while P-Max remains the dominant force, offering a powerful tool to maximize return on ad spend (ROAS), it invariably puts the platform’s self-interest and profitability ahead of yours (the client). 

By design, P-Max is efficient but lazy. And the Champion of Average. Because that’s how it makes money. 

Left to its own automated devices, your campaign will do just enough work with a mix of just enough products to reach your targets (and maximise its own profitability). It’ll spend some money on some products that over-perform and average them out with some products that underperform. 

Then make it really hard for you to identify which is which.  

What’s more, if P-Max can get the job done using just a handful of products, that’s exactly what it will lazily do.  

So if you have 1000 products in your campaign but P-Max can get the job done putting spend behind just 100, it will happily leave the other 900 out in the rain to die.  

Good for Google because it makes them more money. Not so good for the marketer, who’ll find it difficult to scale just leaning on the same handful of products. 

Enter the zombie campaign. 

To kick it off, run a script to pull all your ‘living-dead’ products that haven’t had many clicks or impressions before. Put all of those that into a campaign by themselves. And back it with just enough spend to identify if they are hidden gems, or zombie dust.  What we’re trying to achieve here is breaking the algorithm and pushing spend behind products that have never had spend before. 

Automate and define the parameters. So once a product has had 10, 20, 30 or 100 clicks, it’s identified as a potential performer and is kicked out of the zombie campaign and up into the original (OG) P-Max campaign.  

At the same time, when these ‘new’ products outperform those already in the OG campaign, those underperformers will be automatically be demoted to the zombie campaign. Then rinse and repeat.  

So that slowly over time you have an OG campaign that’s constantly topped up with good performers and a zombie campaign full of duds that should eventually die of its own accord.  

In theory, you’re creating the perfect campaign. And you’re using performance marketing to broaden the base for future growth. 

(Thus providing valuable insights for future brand activity. But that’s an article for another day.) 

Zombie campaigns are also handy for launches. Again, with no history of spend behind it, P-Max will ignore new products no matter how much potential they might have. By breathing some life into them through a zombie campaign, they get a chance to thrive. 

If this process sounds convoluted and confusing, having to force the system into finding good products, that’s because it is. Because Performance Max won’t do it on its own.  

As a business, Google would lose money if it only focused on everything that was doing well. That’s why it’s the Champion of Average. 

Failure, or at least partial failure, is a feature not a bug. And to avoid that failure, marketers must short-circuit the automation and actively push their own content. 

Or better still, get their agency to! 

The opacity of performance platforms diminishes the ability of marketers and their agencies to make strategic decisions based on their own insights and objectives. Proactive moves like zombie campaigns help take the high ground back. 

All we are saying? Give ghouls a chance.