It was obviously intended as a lighthearted jape to usher in Tuesday's "National No Click Through Day," as the IAB UK was calling it -- but it raises as many questions as it answers. There will have been some who laughed along with the humorous video of media execs in agencies deleting the relevant columns so they are taking away from reporting once and for all.
The confusing element is that the very industry that is making the joke is the one responsible for the metric of CTR in the first place. It was part of digital's early promise. Not only can you verify that an ad has been seen (let's sidestep viewability, just for now), you can also tell if it has been clicked on. Once the ad has been clicked on and the landing page arrived at, you can start looking at conversion rates.
The trouble is, it was always a bit of a comfort blanket the industry would need to shed as it grew up. When click rates are, at their most incredibly best, 1% but are actually more likely to be one in a thousand, it's clear the industry needs to move on.
Relying on just one in a thousand people clicking through as a measure of average success was never going to cut it with advertisers. The original "look at what we can show you" measure became an embarrassment at the end of a reporting column, not the central part of the conversation.
This brings us back to a difficult point: what does show that an ad worked, and how do you prove a brand got some bang for its proverbial buck?
In the editorials that have been prompted by the IAB UK "click head" campaign, there have been some unfathomable discussions around conversion tracking and KPIs of one sort or another.
The simple truth, however, is that if a click comes through and then the customer goes on to buy an item, it's very hard to tell if they were influenced by an ad they may have seen earlier. If it was served to them, how would you know they saw it?
A click right there and then from the ad itself would be the most obvious sign that the creative and placement worked, but we're back to the original problem. Who clicks on ads? Other than bored drunks and people with fat thumbs on iPhones?
Back to the campaign for a moment. Funny and irreverent though the IAB UK's letter to top advertisers and video were, paraphrasing the ISBA response runs something along the lines of this. If you're going to give us a metric, why then say it's useless? If you think advertisers don't realise it's useless, you're misguided. If you think advertisers don't know other measurements are needed to determine ROI, then again, you're misguided.
This leaves the ball back in adland's court. If CTR is so useless, stop using it and come up with something that works better.
It could be looking at uplifts in desirable outcomes during a campaign, or just after, such as appointment bookings, brochure requests or purchases. It might be NPS studies showing metrics moving in the right direction?
Which brings us back again to the thorny issue of advertisers needing to prove their campaigns work and are attributable to their effort and sales weren't driven by other activity or simply happened in the absence of people told to go out and buy product x that month.
Digital advertising has dug itself into a performance model hole -- and it now seems to be trying to extricate itself away from direct response and back to branding and its traditional measures.