Do Click-Through Rates Equate to Tune-in? Are We STILL Having This Discussion?

Guess what I just learned. Johnny Depp is the voice of a cute lizard in "Rango," in theaters March 4. And Ford is committed to more energy-efficient vehicle technology. How did I learn this? I did not click on a banner ad. Let me be clear, did you get that? I actually learned something from an online ad and did NOT click on the banner. 

Unfortunately, the current perceptions still exist that even though I noticed these ads, got exactly what I needed from them, but did not offer up a click, these ads were not effective. I know, we've talked about this for years, hence the utter disdain and frustration for the fact that 10 years later we're still talking about CTR as a measure of success for digital brand advertising.

So, let's go over this -- again. A click means that you've reached a user on a level that makes them alter their behavior, choosing your content over all else at that moment.  And that's all that it means. In reality, that translates to some 99.8% of people NOT clicking on your banner.  While this may be disastrous to direct-response marketers, it is the opposite for brand advertisers who on a larger level need to understand the value of engagement and frequency over click-through. For example, how did that ad affect a future behavior? Did it affect my attitude or brand impression? These are key metrics to understanding ROI on any digital campaign, and simply focusing on CTR alone fails to measure this.  



An Industry Torn: On-Air vs. Online Goals

A prime example in my history of working with clients is TV networks. These clients are inevitably caught in an eternal struggle with what their digital display media should do. After all, is it for driving on-air tune-in, where networks make their money? Or is it for driving online site traffic, where the sites make their money? Each can -- and should -- carry a distinctly different call to action.

For nearly a decade, my company has been developing rich-media ads intended to keep users engaged by playing games, sampling videos, taking quizzes and polls, and more. We believe if a user grants us permission and interacts, we should take advantage and deliver as much content as we can for as long as possible, providing a more memorable and relevant experience. According to recent EyeWonder data from 2010, consumers are "21 times more likely to spend meaningful time with a rich media ad than to click on it." This was excellent for the marketing goals to drive tune-in and awareness, but it upset the networks' site properties, which want to monetize those video views, quizzes, games, etc. 

One way to bridge this gap between brand marketing and online property objectives would be to allocate a small portion of media impressions, say 10%, to create messaging specific to site content. These can be simple, static units and should act more as direct-response ads in messaging. If users want to click, they will, and this approach affords them the ability to serve messaging and call to actions that are short and clear. 

Conversely, the lion's share of media should focus on engagement (rich media) and frequency (standard media). Companies such as Dynamic Logic have, for years, provided data from studies that clearly indicate "a direct correlation between the branding value of online advertising and the frequency of exposure." I recently had a network client that tested two of its highest rated, most popular productions, and the results proved this by showing that a frequency of four-plus directly impacts and increases intent to tune in. 

What will this mean? Well for one, longer lead teaser campaigns that afford networks the ability to reach users at a frequency of four or more. Gone should be the four-day media run -- if we heed the findings from companies such as Dynamic Logic, Microsoft and a slew of rich media vendors. 

This will also mean a renewed focus on engagement over CTR in both early campaign creative strategy and post-campaign success measurement.    

I don't feel as though we are in the dark ages as an industry just because CTR numbers are so low, as the IAB recently stated. I feel as though we're in a renaissance period; a time where we have more than a decade of user and interaction data, efficacy studies, and the ability to change and test creative on the fly. All of this must be applied to better inform our clients about efficacy and how to activate their audience. 

After all, in the race to build the better banner, the winner, in the end, should be the user. That is something all too often lost along the way in many digital campaigns. 

Let's press forward to innovate and expand creatively into new ad models for devices such as the iPad, with renewed ad methods, fresh ad products, and smarter measurement methodologies. 

7 comments about "Do Click-Through Rates Equate to Tune-in? Are We STILL Having This Discussion?".
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  1. Sam Diener, March 4, 2011 at 11:43 a.m.

    A good point. Of course, you are correct...... 10 years of smacking this point around. It's getting to be a little old.

  2. Joshua Chasin from comScore, March 4, 2011 at noon

    Couldn't agree more.

    The new IAB formats unveiled last weekend at their annual leadership meeting should help provide opportunities for more quality display.

  3. Andy Ulery from, March 4, 2011 at 4:12 p.m.

    Great post Mike. It's been such a battle with brands and agencies to push them away from CTR which as you so rightly state is really is a useless metric for a brand advertiser. People are on a specific site for a reason and asking them to drop what they're doing and go to another site is an unrealistic request. And CTRs have proven that for years. Engagement is key and creating exciting ad units is the way to go. Online ads are the next generation of billboards at this point. But yet they are so much more powerful and of course measurable. Maybe someday soon we'll all let out a yell of rejoice when the brand/agency folk finally heed our recommendations and ditch the CTR once and for all.

  4. Kathy Broniecki from Envoy, Inc., March 4, 2011 at 4:37 p.m.

    So well said! I mean - well written. Thank you!

  5. Will Larson from Ticketmaster / Live Nation Entertainment, March 4, 2011 at 6:41 p.m.

    Great article. Good point. I agree with you within the realm of brand advertising but as an ecommerce enthusiast CTR and CPA will always have a place in my heart.

  6. Jason Burke from clypd, Inc, March 4, 2011 at 9:55 p.m.

    Clicks can't be completely dismissed -- will always have value for DR but CTR has no place in upper ad funnel goals.

    With the advent of lean-back and mobile environments, ad delivery is changing significantly. Soon agencies will not be required to "fill-in-the-CTR-blank" post campaign for their client and will instead need to deliver engagement and brand lift to their clients.

  7. Sam Diener, March 15, 2011 at 9:56 a.m.

    Jason - you make a great point and clickthrough rates will always be near and dear to advertiser's hearts. Could you maybe explain a little bit what you mean in terms of brand lift and engagement not currently being a deliverable?

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