The Right Niche

With over 400 ad networks, segmentation has become a big part of successful performance marketing campaigns.

Katrina Toft loves sushi. So it’s only natural that the designer, a recent college graduate, started a blog about the Seattle sushi restaurants she haunts. Already, she’s making enough from to feed her fish habit. Now, she’s working on a site for gamers.

The explosion of ad networks – we count more than 400, and rising – makes it easier for people like Toft to make money from some very niche content for very small groups of readers. Vertical ad networks that segment according to their incomes, interests or ethnicity, help marketers hone in on these spot markets.

There are all sorts of ways to segment American consumers. Forbes Ad Network goes after high-earning executives, while BlogHer addresses women with wide-ranging interests, and Complex Media focuses on cool young guys. But one of the best opportunities lies in ethnic marketing, for two reasons: First, the spending power of Hispanics, Asian-Americans and African Americans is growing faster than that of U.S. consumers as a whole. Second, because advertisers tend to lump them into mass-market ad campaigns, those who address them directly have an opportunity to grab new, loyal customers.

For example, even during the recession, the purchasing power – and spending – of Hispanics has grown. According to Ethnic Technologies, a research firm focused on global multicultural marketing, because Hispanic-Americans tend to abhor debt, they weren’t overleveraged like so many other American consumers. The Conference Board’s Research Center forecast the purchasing power of Hispanics less than 44 years old will grow from $295 billion in 2008 to $397 billion by 2010 – that’s about a third in two otherwise sluggish years.

According to the Selig Center for Economic Growth at the University of Georgia’s Terry College of Business, African-American buying power is projected to top $1.1 trillion by 2012 – a 34 percent increase over a five-year period, while the purchasing power of Asian-Americans, the third-largest minority group, is forecast to grow 45.9 percent in the same time, reaching $670 billion in spending by 2012.

But tapping into this market via horizontal networks may miss many of them, according to Alicia Morga, CEO of Consorte Media, a vertical network focused on the Hispanic markets in the United States and Latin America.

In order to reach Hispanics, Best Buy worked with Consorte on a banner and paid search campaign in English and Spanish to bring new customers to Dealix, a company that provides leads to auto dealers in the United States, ran a lead generation campaign with Consorte to find the Hispanics it knew it was missing with its generic campaigns.

Are You Being Served?
The Hispanic market is well-served by a variety of performance- and CPM-based ad networks, including Batanga Network, Hola Networks and ImpreMedia. In addition, Yahoo, MSN and AOL operate Spanish-language portals to reach U.S. Latinos.

There’s a dearth of ad networks focused specifically on other ethnic groups. and the Nubian Ad Network target African-Americans, while BET ad network focuses on music, entertainment and lifestyle sites. For reaching Asian Americans, there’s the Asian American Ad Network.

However, networks for non-ethnic demographic and interest verticals are popping up like mushrooms after a monsoon. According to comScore, vertical ad networks as a whole doubled their reach from 2008 to 2009. More important, comScore found that content-targeted verticals were significantly more engaging to consumers. People reached by vertical ad networks spent at least 60 percent more time in those site categories than the average category visitor.

The marketplace may get still more crowded, thanks to Adify and DevHub, two services designed to let publishers easily build and manage their own ad networks. Adify also operates a larger ad network spanning all the properties
on the platform.

Wide or Deep
Of course, advertisers also can reach Hispanics – or whomever – via the large portals: AOL, Yahoo, MSN and Google. These mass, horizontal ad networks segment via behavioral targeting, a technique that uses a unique cookie to track consumer behavior both within the major property, as well as over its network of third-party sites, in order to build a richer profile of each individual. The profile includes interactions with both content and ads, and the aim is to gather insight that can be used to show ads that are more relevant to each person. For example, a woman who reads pregnancy-related content may be a desirable target for an automaker with a vehicle that appeals to new families.

Horizontal networks can help large advertisers reach more consumers in a vertical than some targeted networks can.

“Performance advertisers may need to reach a certain audience, but at the end of the day, they’ll be judging the success of the campaign based on performance. Simple things need to be there: They need the reach, and they need the data and optimization tools to drive the performance,” says David Zinman, general manager of the Yahoo! Network.

Michael Sprouse, CMO of Epic Advertising, a performance marketing company that operates the AZN ad network focused on big brands and super-affiliates, says that because his network is so large, advertisers can reach a niche as well as a vertical – at a cheaper price. “We don’t change our pricing considerably based on how specific you want to get. We take the model that is used to appeal to large constituencies and hone that to reach something very specific,” Sprouse says.

Buys on horizontal networks also tend to be cheaper. As a replacement for contextual targeting, BT could let that automaker reach the pregnant lady with ads placed on lower-cost media. According to Amy Manus, director of media for interactive marketing agency Nurun, 70 percent of horizontal networks and portals either already offer this kind of targeting or plan to.

“The latest trend is for advertisers and brands to utilize networks to determine who they should be targeting through audience analytics like Blue Kai, Quantcast or Personifi. These allow you to find untapped target audiences. It has really become more about psychographics than demographics,” Manus says.

Boutique Approach
“The Hispanic market is easier to understand in terms of language preference. One third is Spanish-dominant, one third is English dominant, and one third is bilingual. So, an advertiser might be missing a portion of that pie they want to reach,” she says. For example, if you advertise on Yahoo en EspaƱol, you’d miss English-dominant and bilingual Hispanics, while advertising to Hispanics who visit English-language sites would miss the Spanish-speakers.

Vertical ad networks sell their deep knowledge of their customer segment and their publishers’ passion for it.

Says Genia Stevens, publisher of the Women’s Blog Ad Network and the Lesbian Blog Ad Network, “The advantage of using a targeted network like ours is that bloggers tend to have that trust relationship with their readers. Blogs tend to be more engaging and speak more to their readers, so ads can feed the conversation.”

In addition, the vertical networks consult with advertisers to share what they know about their audience’s interests and what they respond to. “They are people who understand their market deeply and select the sites that speak to the passion of the audience. They also maintain a long-term relationship with their publisher that helps them understand what the community cares about,” says Joelle Gropper Kaufman, SVP of worldwide marketing for Adify.

They can use this expertise to help marketers fine-tune their messaging. Colors used in ads, key phrases and photography all can increase performance of ads, according to Candace Kennedy, sales and marketing director for Ethnic Technologies, a market research firm. “It’s more warming to the individual, so there’s higher chance they’ll read it and do business with your company,” Kennedy says.

For example, an auto maker ran its mass-market campaign on, a vertical network of 300+ independent publishers focused on the African-American market, with not-so-great results. After consulting with AdGroups, the advertiser included images of African-Americans in the ads for the network and saw response triple.

Roary Wilder, CEO of AdGroups, says that, in general, these tactics increase the response by about 300 percent. “The relevancy of what you’re able to do in a niche network is always going to be more powerful,” he says.


Vertical content networks also claim that their ads reach consumers when they’re more receptive. For example, a stockbroker might be interested in a call from a mutual fund while she’s at the office, and incensed to receive the call at night, when she’s home with her family.


“It’s the right target but the wrong environment and the wrong frame of mind. We’ve got the same people as the horizontal networks. The difference is the ability to reach somebody in the right frame of mind,” says Robert Pietsch, Forbes co-president and chief advertising officer. Adds Brian Silver, CEO of the Travel Ad Network. “What makes my network special is that, because we are trying to monetize the travel audience at all times, we have the ability to understand where someone is in the purchasing lifecycle and target the appropriate ad.”

Premium Placements
All these factors position verticals as premium networks, able to charge more and insist on terms – at least in theory. Other factors that go int0 making a network “premium” include curating the sites in the network and using the CPM ad model.

On the Adify network of vertical blogs, “We focus on great brand engagement. Your advertising will perform better in the right context, but the right context is often expensive,” says Kaufman.

Content- or interest-targeted vertical networks tend to carefully select publishers and keep networks to a manageable number.

“We have our bloggers all sign the editorial guidelines, and we have humans who are reviewing every blog all the time, making sure they are blogging regularly about their vertical, that there are no paid endorsements or paid posts, and no unacceptable content,” says Elisa Camahort Page, co-founder and COO of BlogHer.

Tactics like these assure advertisers that the quality of traffic on the sites is as good as the content. In addition, most networks provide statistics on what percent of Internet users they reach, as well as how many times they can reach an individual, on average. They often do user studies to help advertisers understand their readers. Information on the demographics of visitors to media properties is also available through third-party media analysis and tracking services, including comScore and Nielsen@plan, paid services used by large networks, and Quantcast, a free audience measurement service.

Premium CPAs
In today’s tight-fisted economy, even brand advertisers are looking at CPAs – even if they’re paying based on CPMs. The difference is, when they advertise on CPM networks, they do some reverse-math to analyze how the CPM translates to whichever action metric they choose.

“In display, there’s always a back-end metric. For example, an advertiser may have a $7 CPA target on the back end. We may charge $10 CPM, and if the campaign garners a $12 CPA, we can see the lowest-performing sites,  eliminate them and we’ve reduced the CPA to $6,” says the Travel Ad Network’s Silver.

Large advertisers and agencies, such as those that advertise on Forbes Audience Network, often have their own, very sophisticated analytics platforms used to track conversions; they may also use their own optimization services. Others make use of built-in analytics and dashboards provided by the ad networks.

The Big Deal
When it comes to the publisher’s revenue share, some, like the Gay Ad Network, let publishers set their own CPMs and fill unused inventory via other networks, a process known as backfilling or tethering.

“They can use us as the primary sales channel, but if we’re unable to sell their inventory at their minimum CPM, we’ll relinquish it and send it over to Google or whatever backup they choose. If a publisher knows what their effective CPM is, if we don’t hit it, they’re no worse off, because we’ll redirect back to what they’re using today. It’s like a no-risk trial,” says Gay Ad Network CEO Mark Elderkin.

Other networks demand exclusivity, but say they make up for it with the quality and quantity of advertisers they can provide.

“Our brand lends credibility and an access to advertisers that most networks don’t have,” Pietsch says. For example, a major financial advertiser on, the publisher’s original content site, wanted to reach small business owners. It targeted them via IP address on, and then also ran ads targeted by content on the Business and Financial Blog Network.

Some networks have a reverse sliding scale, rewarding high-performing super-affiliates with better splits or custom models.

DevHub gradually raises publishers’ percentages as they build up their sites. Says Mark Michael, co-founder and SVP of strategic marketing for Evo Media Group, which operates the service, “Out of the box, you get our standard rev share. As you’re building that site, one piece of content today, another tomorrow, slowly your rev share would go up.”


Power in Numbers
Large publishers and superaffiliates on the Casale network – those with more than 250,000 unique visitors a month – may be able to negotiate a guaranteed CPM or exclusive representation.

“Everybody starts with us in a revenue-share scenario, so we can have the opportunity to evaluate the property and audience, as well as advertiser demand for the inventory. From there, we set a benchmark, work with publishers to improve how their traffic is performing, and recommend where we could take the relationship potentially,” says CEO Julia Casale-Amorim.

CPMs and rev-shares are all over the map. Casale Media pays 70 percent of ad revenue to the publisher, while BlogHer shares 45 percent and Forbes offers 40 percent. Some networks we spoke with didn’t disclose their revenue shares.

Ultimately, though, what’s more important than the CPM or the rev-share is the publisher’s net revenue. Says Gay Ad Network’s Elderkin, “Whether it’s 90 percent of a five-cent CPM or 50 percent of a $10 CPM, the percentage almost doesn’t matter. Sites that perform well get a larger percent of campaign dollars and a higher percentage fill-rate, while sites that don’t, get optimized out of the campaign.” Another key factor is the audience growth a vertical network can provide by operating a portal or central hub that features all the sites in the network.

Says BlogHer’s Camahort Page, “We do a lot to try to cross-promote our sites, and foster the amplification effect across our community.” For example, every blogger, regardless of the size of her audience, sees her headlines run in rotation in a “what they’re saying” box on all the other blogs in her group. Selected headlines are also distributed to

That audience growth translates into more revenue for publishers. Says Richard Antoniello, CEO and publisher of ComplexMedia, which publishes a print magazine and original content on, “Say Nike or Brand Jordan comes to us. We run the campaign on, but of course they also want to run on (one of the independent sites in the network). We usually end up running a little more on the individual sneaker site, but is successful as well, because we get a smaller slice of lots of ads.”

The Intangible Factors
And then, there are the intangibles: better branding, a sense of community and the availability of technology and services to improve a site may all be important.

If affiliate marketing and blogging are solitary businesses, the right ad network can ease the loneliness. BlogHer hosts annual conferences, as well as conference calls where network members can ask questions and share knowledge. Even some large networks like Epic try to leave the door open to help publishers improve site performance and traffic.

Networks may also provide technology beyond what most indies can easily acquire. “Publishers are as loyal as the biggest check, which doesn’t always come from the CPA that runs across my banners. If you’re site 1,000 in the long tail of 10,000 travel sites, you’re going to look to see who’s going to drive higher CPM, but also, what products and services do they have that I can add? When you come to us, you can extend your pages through microsites, or add widgets, and make more money from those,” says Silver of the Travel Ad Network.

Evo Media also promises an expandable platform for publishers. Says Michael, “No one should ever outgrow the platform – even if you get ridiculously popular. If you want to add a forum or chat layer, it should be right there for you in your publishing dashboard.”

A Tidy Marketplace
Clearly, the CPM model removes the risk of many types of fraud facing super-affiliates. But there are different gotchas publishers should watch out for.

First, they should read the fine print to determine what a network’s fill rate is, says AdGroups’ Wilder. “That’s where the sneaky language starts coming in from networks with lower fill rates. They can fill a certain amount of inventory at a certain CPM, but it’s only 20 percent – and the rest is filled in with CPMs at less than a dime. That’s the language some inexperienced publishers will

Don’t forget to ask about when and how you’ll get paid, warns Casale-Amorim. Some networks don’t pay publishers until they get paid by advertisers. “Net 30 would be the ideal,” she says.

Seasonal Sunshine

Despite the gloom hanging over the holiday shopping season, affiliates can boost sales by giving consumers what they crave: value.

Last year, Kim Berry gave her husband Dennis a miter saw and a massage chair pad. He gave her a high-end juicer, a DNA test for their mixed-breed dog and jewelry. There were also plenty of smaller gifts under the tree, and they spent $1,200 on gifts for their parents, a grandmother, brothers, sisters, nieces and nephews.

This year, Kim, a corporate writer, moved to a different company and took a 20 percent pay cut. Her husband’s IT job was outsourced overseas.

"Where we once had two professional incomes, we are now living on 80 percent of my income," she says.

This year, she and her husband will exchange gifts worth less than $100, and Kim’s sisters and their families will get nice greeting cards. For his large family, the’’ve agreed to keep the budget below $250.

"We’re not sure how we’re going to divide that yet. We may not be able to buy things for the nieces and nephews this year," Kim says.

Welcome to the holiday shopping season, 2009 edition. Expect a replay of last year, when consumers kept their wallets zipped until the last possible moment and spent less when they finally spent. Despite recent assurances from Ben Bernanke and other economists that the worst is over, there’s plenty of gloom among consumers, who are facing the highest unemployment rate in a quarter century.

Research firm eMarketer forecasts that online retail spending will stabilize by the end of the year, that is, growth in sales will be zero year-over-year. But that’s no growth from a memorably bad quarter in 2008. "Last year was very disappointing, there was a real contraction. It’s going to continue to be tough for the rest of this year," says Jeffrey Grau, eMarketer’s senior retail analyst.

And that’s the good news. According to the U.S. Department of Commerce, ecommerce sales in the second quarter of this year fell 4.5 percent year-over-year. Optimists called that a slight improvement from the 5.8 percent year-over-year decline in the first quarter.

Indications from the back-to-school season are another indicator of a challenging gifting season. According to the National Retail Federation, spending on kids’ clothing and school supplies was down 7.7 percent from the previous year, which was also bad. Consumers seemed to have trouble letting go of their hardearned dollars. Less than half of families with students in K–12 or college completed their shopping by early September.

"Back to school happened late this year, and we expect to see the same with the holidays as we have the same short shopping season as we did last year once again," says Mark Kirschner, LinkShare’s CMO.

At the same time, coupon-clipping and bargain hunting intensified. Ebates, one of the top 2 percent of affiliates in terms of sales and merchant revenues, benefited from this. Spending at its back-to-school stores was up 133 percent. This example shows how affiliates who respond to the public’s deal-seeking mood can grow their market share.

"Shopping lost its fun last year. It used to be, ‘One for you, one for me.’ Last year, purchasing was more focused," says Kevin Johnson, CEO of Ebates.

According to LinkShare, the price-conscious mentality may not be a temporary response to a slip in the economy, but a lasting cultural shift. A study by the performance marketing network and gsi interactiveSM found a new kind of online shopper: the value hunter. Certainly, the ability to find the best price has always been a feature of e-commerce, but, according to the survey, price now beats brand – and it may even change what people buy.

Okay, kill the gloom. Most folks will still buy gifts, and slightly more of them will buy online than last year. Says eMarketer’s Grau, "There are consumers out there that are unhappy with traditional stores. They’re up for grabs."

Here are some tips that will help affiliates maximize the effects of holiday promotions — as well as their revenue.


Add Value

According to the LinkShare survey, 63 percent of value hunters will buy something online they normally wouldn’t have purchased because of a special offer. This is an opportunity for affiliates to step up and differentiate themselves through value-based products and promotions. While you can’t control product pricing or selection, think about what you can add to make a purchase feel worthwhile.

Today’s consumer can’t afford to make mistakes. "They’re looking for confirmation that they bought smart," Kirschner says.

Good content is a cost-effective way for an affiliate to add value, according to industry consultant Lisa Riolo, formerly of Commission Junction. One of the benefits of shopping online is that consumers have access to a broader selection of merchandise and better information about not only price, but customer service among merchants.

"One opportunity an affiliate has is to provide true comparisons that are relevant to the consumer. Instead of showing the alternatives, provide content, comparing and contrasting the different brands, styles and merchants they’re buying from," Riolo says. The more information you include to help fire the purchase decision, the better. For example, one merchant may price an item higher but offer free shipping.

Building a site that’s rich in media can be another powerful tool. "Rich media has been a tool that can drive results, as have video and interactive widgets, as long as they are designed to drive a sale, and not just to be interactive for the sake of being interactive," according to Kirschner.


Cozy Up to Merchants

One of the most important things you can do is to make sure you stand out to the affiliate managers, whether they’re at a large network or working for one of the brands you sell. Although they don’t like to talk about it, there are special deals available for super affiliates and rising stars.

The best way to stand out is to be proactive, says Matt Enders, founder of mgecom, a company that manages affiliate programs: "If you really want to capitalize on the fourth quarter, make sure not to wait for affiliate managers to contact you. Don’t be afraid to contact a manager and pitch them," Enders says. Instead of looking at yourself as an extension of the brand’s business, he advises, remember that you are running a business yourself.

You can see how this works for Vistaprint affiliates. This year, as always, the online printing shop will feature holiday cards and calendars for the new year, along with discounts and, as it gets closer to the final shopping countdown, free shipping offers.

The most successful Vistaprint affiliates add a truly personal touch to these offers, according to Donald Schamber, manager of affiliate marketing. Many build custom holiday pages, many of them specific to Vistaprint. They might also do some blogging, or send out emails and newsletters.

During the planning period for the holidays, Schamber does quite a bit of direct email communication with the company’s top-tier affiliates, letting them know about the top offers and making sure they understand new ones. Vistaprint will even adapt an offer to work better for a valuable affiliate.

It also offers holiday-themed, co-branded landing pages on the Vistaprint site. These pages, although hosted by Vistaprint, carry-through the look and feel of the affiliate site that referred the shopper. Schamber says testing has shown improvements in the conversion rate and an increase in the size of the average order when the affiliate’s brand carries through to the actual transaction.

"For some affiliates, this is 60 to 80 percent of their business. It’s such a short window of opportunity that we try to be really responsive to them during that time," Schamber says.

Tricia Meyer, founder of Sunshine Rewards, uses photos and videos to provide a personal touch that appeals to her members and to affiliate managers. For example, last year, she posted a video of her and her mother in front of a Christmas tree, bickering over a box of Ghirardelli chocolates. She also featured her daughter singing, "All I Want for Christmas Is My Two Front Teeth." Says Meyer, "The program managers we work with treat us really well. Even if we don’t send a ton of traffic to them, they know we’ll go the extra mile."


Watch for Trends

It’s great to be offering some of the hottest holiday gifts. It’s stupendous to be among the first to have hopped onto a meteoric trend. Marketers who stand out from the year-end madness have well-developed campaigns ready and waiting when a product hits big. Trend-spotting, formerly the purview of large, rich research companies, has become accessible to everyone, thanks to the search companies.

Keeping an eye on Google Trends, Bing xRank, Yahoo Buzz Index ( and Alexa’s What’s Hot will show you the current most popular searches. You can also put in your keywords — or any term — and see a graph of its popularity over months. These services can help you find the moment when the popularity needle begins to quiver. To keep up with the blogosphere, monitor Technorati. For truly immediate insight into what we’re all talking about right now, Twitter provides a list of trending topics on its homepage.

As you look at trends, Riolo advises that you keep in mind how the economy may influence them. She says, "For example, entertainment products remain hot this holiday season, but consumers are interested in things they can enjoy at home with the family, instead of spending money going out."


Customer Evangelists

Word-of-mouth has never been more powerful or ubiquitous, thanks to Internet sites that let you rate everything from your toothpaste to strangers’ tuchuses. "Reviewing is the new advertising," says Reinier Evers, CEO of His consulting firm recommends offering customers the ability to post product reviews on your site. You should also make it easy for them to post reviews of your products and your site to third-party sites.

There are a couple of advantages to enabling reviews on your site. First, Evers explains, it’s the best way to keep track of what customers are saying — and to quickly and visibly respond if a review is less than stellar.

"Engaging in conversations from an early stage on will often help defuse a potentially damaging, angry thread with others jumping in," he says.

To help your site visitors understand just who is doing the reviewing and why they should listen to them, Evers advises that you provide context for reviews by letting people set up profiles and then adding the profile information to their ratings.

"Consumers are not as accepting of advertising any more. They are more conscientious about researching products," says eMarketer’s Grau. "They’ll buy from the retailer with more information in the form of user ratings and reviews, and personalized recommendations."

With some additional work, there’s another potential bonus for installing reviews: awesome SEO. In May, Google introduced Rich Snippets, a search feature that Evers calls revolutionary, and here’s why: Rich Snippets could get your site reviews into the top organic search results.

First, you need to add some new markup to your review pages; the search giant provides information on how to do this in its Webmaster Central Blog. Then, if Google’s search algorithms deem your reviews to be relevant to someone’s search, a link to the review on your site will show up in the results. Your Rich Snippet link will include the overall product rating, review count, and a snippet of actual review text, making it eye-catching and highly attractive to searchers.


Conversion, Not Price

Once you get into the mindset of today’s consumer, you realize that it’s not all about getting the rock-bottom price. Riolo advises you try to segment both your advertising and your offers to appeal to veteran online shoppers and newbies, as well.

For example, if you normally merchandise "Gifts under $100," try "Gifts under $50" to appeal to bargain hunters. Appeal to time-starved, convenience-oriented shoppers by emphasizing quick shipping.

"Discounting is a vicious game. To lead with a discount can kill you," says Grau. "Instead, give them a reason to come to your site, and then sweeten the deal. To ensure they make a purchase on your site, you offer them an incentive."

A coupon offered at point of purchase is an excellent deal-sweetener. Riolo notes that many affiliates find consumers abandoning shopping carts to go in search of coupons. Then, they convert on the coupon site instead of where they made the purchase decision. Even if you don’t normally work with coupons, you should. She says, "If a coupon is available, every type of advertisers needs to do that, not just the coupon sites."


Avoid the Google Rush

Keyword prices skyrocket in the run-up to the holidays, as major marketers throw their weight into search marketing.

"They dominate the market and drive cost-per-click so high that affiliates can’t compete anymore, even for what you thought was an obscure keyword. They have teams of people looking for those same obscure keywords," says Shane Donnelly, an account manager for, a meta-search engine. claims that keyword prices on its search service average half the price of the big four. Donnelly adds that, while’s network of second- and third tier search engines handle around 12 billion searches a month, compared to Google’s 70 to 80 billion, it offers plenty of scale for most affiliates.

"During the holidays, when you can’t afford the cost-per-click on Yahoo, Google or MSN, second-tier search engines are the place to go," Donnelly says.


The Tried and True

In 2007, holiday sales through Sunshine Rewards shot up, thanks to a Disney cruise contest. Members got an entry for every purchase they made through the cash-back and coupon site. Even if they didn’t win, people who booked the cruise on their own could earn Disney gift cards to use on the voyage.

In 2008, Sunshine Rewards founder Tricia Meyer wanted to make her holiday promotion even better. For starters, instead of one big contest, she hoped that a series of smaller ones might give her site a steady stream of publicity. It also seemed like a good idea to branch out from the Disney theme, in order to reach a new audience.

Both ideas backfired. Bloggers weren’t excited about the smaller contests, and Meyer found out just how many of her more than 13,000 members were Disney fans.

"Now, we realize those Disney fans are our bread and butter," Meyer says. "In this economy, we’re better off playing to our strengths."

In this economy, that goes for all of us.