We love ambitious clients. And our clients at CoStar, who had recently acquired the Apartments.com brand, took "ambitious" to a whole new level. They didn't just want to build a brand. They wanted to dominate the online apartment rental category.

While it's a category made up of a lot of players both national and regional, there wasn't a big brand leader. Hence, the opportunity. But also the challenge. Since there had been little advertising in the category, there was little data to inform decision-making.

Our clients knew very little about their potential customers, but were hungry to learn. So we took an innovative approach to generating media insights, allowing us to become more efficient and smarter as the campaign progressed. In addition to driving leads and traffic, we also had a broader goal to learn and uncover over-performing audiences that could inform later targeting, creative messaging and both online and offline media buying.

We started with a simple, human insight that arose from qualitative research: people looking for a new apartment come from all backgrounds and all walks of life. What they have in common is a mindset, not an identity: they’re looking for a fresh start. Finding these “Fresh-Starters” wasn’t easy with the existing resources. So we created our own.

We set up a data management platform and then developed a custom process for testing-and-learning of audience segments and ad messaging. One high-performing audience that we identified through audience testing, for instance, was newly-engaged couples. We validated this learning through quickly-developed ad creative for social ad platforms, and then scaled to display ad placements as well. We kept adding new priority audiences as data insights emerged.


“When the existing tools can’t get you where you need to go, invent ones that can.”

Nichola Perrigo, VP of digital marketing at RPA

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Knowing that data is only as useful as how you manage it, we built the ability to learn into our system and approach. The more we explored and tested, the more we discovered about the people searching for particular apartments, their attributes, and the kinds of messages and ad creative they found most relevant. One part technology, one part an insane level of collaboration across disciplines.

How insane was the collaboration? Well, since our TV buying team attended the DMP analytics readouts, our selection of TV partners and branded entertainment programs got better and better. And when our Apartments.com creative team was briefed for Super Bowl campaign development, they placed three key DMP segments into the storyline of our Big Game spot — which our social media strategy team then turned into a social movement, blowing away Twitter promoted trend engagement benchmarks along the way.

This media plan succeeded in driving leads and business, as well as making everything else smarter — and in recognition of our collaboration around audience data, this campaign was received the highest awarded programmatic marketing Effie in the inaugural year that programmatic became a distinct Effie category.

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Want a simple understanding of what programmatic is all about? Nichola Perrigo breaks it down in the video below.