An Impression Is Anything But ...

What is an “impression”? If you’re speaking English, an impression is an indelible mark left on someone. It’s pressed into something, leaving behind a visible trace or effect. An impression is not miss-able or forget-able — when something leaves an impression, it means it was remarkable, memorable, compelling. 

But when people are speaking media, an impression is anything but. A media impression is rarely seen or noticed or remembered. It is overwhelmingly likely to be ignored, or perhaps not even there in the first place. When you consider that 1) most ad impressions are avoided and ignored; 2) display ad/banner impressions are clicked by 1 in 10,000 people; and 3) there are estimates that up to 75% of all digital “impressions” are fraudulent or unviewable, you wonder how the hell this term became the currency for media planning and buying in the first place.

Why has this happened? I think there are a few reasons:

  • The media world is resistant to change. Impressions have been the buying scale for a long time, so change is difficult. And changing would require re-setting all pricing and value benchmarks. And demand new thinking and ideas about the role of media.
  • Using the mis-named “impressions” as currency allows for the illusion of scale. This helps make media folks and clients feel comfortable they are “reaching” lots of people – despite the fact that most people won’t be very “impressed.”
  • Using this definition of impressions as the currency allows CPMs to continue to seem low and affordable. Because inventory is loaded with cheap stuff, overall pricing seems cheap. But it’s like filling your Sumatran coffee order with wood shavings to keep prices low.

But why does no one call bullsh*t? Why do agencies and clients buy millions of impressions when we know most of them won’t make one? Why do they purchase huge quantities of something they know is filled up with crap? Why do they not seem to be bothered by the reportedly huge percentage of fraudulent and non-viewable inventory?

And, importantly, why do most people balk at higher prices for higher quality? For paying a higher CPM for inventory that delivers higher engagement, actions and true “impressions”? Why can’t people start seeing media just as they see their micro-brews, their mixed greens, their grass-fed beef – i.e., that non-watered down quality does leave an impression. And is worth the premium.

I’m dying for someone to illuminate me. And for someone to help me come up with the right new media label for this new kind of approach. Where true engagement is pursued. Where actual, relevant content is delivered to real people. And real impressions are created. I’m thinking maybe “True Impressions”. What do you think?

5 comments about "An Impression Is Anything But ...".
Check to receive email when comments are posted.
  1. Cece Forrester from tbd, April 9, 2015 at 9:04 a.m.

    I'll tell you why.

    Because the conceit has always been that if you deliver an "impression" the consumer must be affected in some way leading to a sale. What you say is true, but it is not openly acknowledged as part of the media transaction. And that is not only because of the pricing/value claims, but more importantly because it cannot be admitted that a consumer might not want to be impressed upon at every time and place you are trying to do it, and might actively evade or ignore the impression. They have no right of avoidance, therefore it can't happen. And that is because consumers are viewed as machines that do as told when a button is pushed, or as prey to be stalked and killed, not potential friends for the brand who have choices and ought to be cultivated respectfully.

    Aren't you glad you asked?

  2. Ed Papazian from Media Dynamics Inc, April 9, 2015 at 10:59 a.m.

    While some advertisers are devoted to low CPM buys in all media and pressure their agencies to go for audience "tonnage" buys on a dedicated basis, many, many others do not approach media in this manner, nor do they take the audience---or "impression" ----for granted. In every medium there are numerous examples of advertisers paying top dollar to promote themselves in particular and ad-favorable media "environments" and this is true in digital as well. While one can buy dispaly advertising via "networks" at $2 CPMs the normative CPMs for display ads are about $10-12 and many selective sites garner twice this figure or more. The same is true for video ads. Sure, you can buy them at CPMs as low as $2-3 from certain vendors but the norm for so-called "untargeted" ads is $20-25 and the "targeted ad " norms are $35, with some going as high as $75. To put these figures in context, if you take all of national TV---daytime, fringe evening and prime, including cable and syndication as well as the broadcast networks--- your typical CPM for a mix of "30s" and "15s" is about $10 ( note:all of these numbers are for total viewers, unadjusted regardinjg "visibility"issues ). But, if you look at prime time on the broadcast networks, the going CPM rate is around $30----yet advertisers plunked down $8.5 billion for such time in this season's upfront sales. How come?

  3. Paul Gumbinner from The Gumbinner Company, Inc, April 9, 2015 at 2:34 p.m.

    Michael, you are totally right.  People don't necessarily want to pay for quality.  And I suspect that clients (and the media company buyers) are trained to look for lower cost cpm's.  Simple as that.  The thinking goes, I can pay $2.00 for a cpm, whiy would I want to pay $20, even if it is 100 times more effective?

    You are right. It is time the business started to change its thinking. 

  4. Doug Garnett from Protonik, LLC, April 9, 2015 at 5:01 p.m.

    I'll tell you why it's tough to get people to pay higher prices for a "better impression"... Because thats great theory - but every media outlet in the world spends hours creating brilliant (and false) arguments for why their impressions are the best - and they've pummeled buyers with these theories for decades. Basic marketing: pummel people with a false message for long enough and they stop believing it's even possible. And...really...would can one know if this theory of better impression is valid?

    As a DRTV specialist, we mostly ignore impressions for the most part in buying - focusing instead on how well the media drives consumers to some type of measurable action (we always track after the fact when the impressions are more meaningful). This doesn't tell the whole story. But consider this:  if we find a media sweet spot where we can drive a lot of people to measurable action for the dollar, then we likely have a large group of others who will act in unmeasurable ways (e.g. Go to a store). And, from experience, we know we reach that large audience to deliver far more impact at retail, for example, than we would have with impression based buying.

    this works when you have a great product for DRTV so it's not an answer for everyone. But it reveals surprising truths about media that aren't discernable in any other way.

  5. Renee Cook from Sundog, April 10, 2015 at 9:29 a.m.

    In the end, what really matters? Cost per thousand or cost per conversion? I've negotiated many media plans based off where I need my cost per conversion to come in. I'll pay $50 CPM (direct to publisher) as long as the placement is generating conversion at or below my benchmark. Use your analytics to drive your negotatiation. If I pay a $50 CPM but my cost per conversion is over benchmark, go back to the publisher and re-negotiate the CPM. Their $50 CPM may only be worth $35 to me. Measurable results is what it's all about.

Next story loading loading..