Selling Brand Awareness Online: Back To The Future?

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:

  • Audiences exposed to display advertising are more likely to be aware of the advertiser than audiences on the same sites who are not exposed to such advertising.
  • Audience segments who see the ads on a site are more likely to become customers of the advertiser.
  • They tend to spend more than customers not exposed to the ads.
  • 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."

    6 comments about "Selling Brand Awareness Online: Back To The Future?".
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    1. Jonas Halpren from Federated Media, July 30, 2009 at 2:27 p.m.

      Great article! I have been saying this for years. It is such a simple concept. Banners = Billboards

    2. Eric Melchor from Smart Digital Spending, July 30, 2009 at 2:41 p.m.

      I've had a bit of experience with Atlas' Engagement Mapping and have tested it on a few clients while working as an Analyst. If you plan on implementing it in the future,
      -make sure you have some kind of frequency cap on your impressions
      -and run on specific sites, not across ad networks

      Otherwise, you won't see a difference compared to the normal results you'd see in the last ad model.


    3. Donald Nosek from Digital.Strategy.Sales.Marketing, July 30, 2009 at 2:47 p.m.

      Interesting...sitting here at OMMA Behavioral @ Hotel Nikko in SF and Keynote speaker Dave Zinman (VP & GM, Display Advertising, Yahoo! Inc.) just made the same point: Online Brand Building and Awareness is possible!

      It's the job of agencies, networks and publishers to talk clients off the "CTR/lead/direct and immediate measurement" cliff and show true display and online advertising "value" in other ways.

      To date the iconic brands built via TV are apparent (Geico caveman, Maytag repairman, Mr Clean, etc.), but almost anyone would struggle to find similar examples from online.

      So the question is why not? With emerging technologies and shifting ad budgets Dave predicts we will see these online brand building examples in the very near future.

      I agree; we should several good examples soon...provided clients are convinced of its "value" and make the investment into solid strategic plans with emotional creative.

    4. Heather Blair from SNAPe Media, July 30, 2009 at 3:48 p.m.

      Can I just take this whole page and shove it down my advertiser's throats? I am sorry that may have sounded aggressive, but today is one of those days... I am battling the very issue of "what have you done for me lately" with one of my advertisers. banner ads dont get the clicks and actions they expect.
      Never mind my that publishers mention the advertisers in write ups and review, never mind that thousands...yes thousands respond to those write ups and reviews... never mind the product is explained in detail... it didnt get X amount of clicks and XX amount of sales... I just have not done a good or sufficient job at explaining this metric. your article, might just be able to help me do that! Thanks

    5. Bruce May from Bizperity, July 30, 2009 at 4:27 p.m.

      Well, well, it's about time that we all wake up to the reality of brand building vs. conversions. It takes a big war chest to make it work (or a very niche market) but the rules for this game are as old as advertising itself. The marketing/sales process is long and arduous. Understanding what is realistically possible is a crucial piece of knowledge that every business needs to understand. It is different for every industry segment so most of the generalizations I hear from ad pundits don't really add up. Thanks for the good article.

    6. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited, July 30, 2009 at 4:57 p.m.

      Many a moon ago during my buying years, I was what they used to be called, a frequency buyer. There were no "metrics". But I always found that hitting a smaller audience (according to budget) more times brought in more customers than thinning out the herd. You stop - they stop. Flights depend upon the advertiser and goals. That basic has not changed. Also, just the other day after viewing a few of my regular sites, I went to the stores and bought some stuff instead of on line. What metric pool does that fit in? You are right. It's not overnight. Image and call to action combinations whether national, regional or local advertisers bake the cake.

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