Optimal Spend Rate Estimation and Pacing for Ad Campaigns with Budgets


Online ad platforms offer budget management tools for advertisers that aim to maximize the number of conversions given a budget constraint. As the volume of impressions, conversion rates and prices vary over time, these budget management systems learn a spend plan (to find the optimal distribution of budget over time) and run a pacing algorithm which follows the spend plan. This paper considers two models for impressions and competition that varies with time: a) an episodic model which exhibits stationarity in each episode, but each episode can be arbitrarily different from the next, and b) a model where the distributions of prices and values change slowly over time. We present the first learning theoretic guarantees on both the accuracy of spend plans and the resulting end-to-end budget management system. We present four main results: 1) for the episodic setting we give sample complexity bounds for the spend rate prediction problem: given $n$ samples from each episode, with high probability we estimate $\rho_e$, the optimal spend rate for the episode as $\widehat{\rho}_e$, 2) we extend the algorithm of Balseiro and Gur (2019) to operate on varying, approximate spend rates and show that the resulting combined system of optimal spend rate estimation and online pacing algorithm for episodic settings has regret that vanishes in number of historic samples $n$ and the number of rounds $T$, 3) for non-episodic but slowly-changing distributions we show that the same approach approximates the optimal bidding strategy up to a factor dependent on the rate-of-change of the distributions, and 4) we provide experiments showing that our algorithm outperforms both static spend plans and non-pacing across a wide variety of settings.

Talk at INFORMS Annual Meeting 2021