What do the Geico Caveman TV ads have in common with the Mohegan Sun sign at the new Yankees Stadium? Well, for starters, you cannot click on them.
And despite the great hope metrics mavens have held for clickstream proof of online ad efficacy, virtually no one clicks on online display advertising. Unless "someone" refers to the one-in-a thousand clicks a typical ad receives, some of which are of course mistakes. (I'd say that every thousandth time I am on a site, I accidentally click on an ad. How about you?)
Search is of course a different story. When I am searching online, I am eager to click on something that will take me where I want to go.
Could it be that online display advertising is really akin to print display or TV commercials? Recall the famous dictum, attributed to retailer John Wanamaker: "I know that my half of my advertising works. I just can't tell you which half."
Advertisers know these things, yet because of the promise of clickstream metrics, they have continued to hope against hope that somehow their Omniture server logs, their agencies and their online publishing partners will show them the metrics that their advertising is indeed working.
Today then perhaps John Wanamaker would say, "I know that one-one thousandth of my advertising works...."
Enter the new comScore / Online Publisher Associate research pointing toward the efficacy of online display advertising. Their presentation (here is the slideshow) takes the kind of approach those of us who have been selling advertising since pre-digital days would recognize well. It takes a long view of the relationship between audience exposure to advertising and sales outcomes. The key selling points should bring a smile to the face of anyone who sold print with this kind of logic:
What I like about this kind of selling approach is that it gives advertisers the freedom to believe as John Wanamaker believed -- trusting that your good advertising will have an effect, even if you do not have the immediate clickstream metrics to prove it.
Trust, I know, but verify. And there are creative paths open to the buyers and sellers of digital display advertising. Young-Bean Song of Microsoft Atlas, for example, has done the industry a great service with his challenge to the virtually automatic credit search gets for online sales conversion. The concept of "engagement mapping" offers publishers a way to develop a logical, metric-based story around the influence that display advertising has on their sites: "Typically, between 93-95% of audience engagements with online advertising receive no credit at all when advertisers review campaign ROI. That presents a substantial margin for missed opportunity. Unlike the outdated "last ad" model that narrowly attributes 100% success to the most recent ad clicked, Engagement Mapping technology reveals the entire conversion funnel. This enables you to make more effective, more relevant decisions in your digital marketing."(Microsoft Atlas)
Let's stop the insanity of trying to make display advertising something it is not. It cannot even win when display advertising is the primary reason a customer goes to a site and buys something. Display advertising has always been aimed above the sales funnel -- to attract people into a brand engagement that begins with awareness. Using online search to find a product is seriously down the funnel, and searching for a specific vendor is near the end of the whole process.
Meanwhile, my son is about to get car insurance. And I'm just betting he is going to sign up online after he types Geico in the search bar. I can hear him saying, "Yeah, Dad, you know, it's so easy, even a caveman can do it."