Log Off: Assessing the Great Disconnect

In advertising as in life, those who fail to embrace change and take advantage of new technologies are left in the dust. And yet some in the online advertising world remain stuck in the past, clinging to archaic notions that threaten to impede our industry's growth.

At its annual meeting recently, the Internet Advertising Bureau announced the impending release of its "Global Internet Ad Impression Measurement Guidelines." This grand initiative is touted as a uniform way to measure what we do, yet it relies almost exclusively on a single metric: impressions.

This might be fine if it were measuring print media or even online advertising circa 1998. But consumers today spend myriad hours online -- far more so than in front of TV monitors or reading magazines, rendering the concept of relying solely on impressions antiquated at best.

There are those who understand this and those who don't. (We don't need to name names here. Both camps know who they are.) Hence the great disconnect.

Those of us on board -- interactive ad agencies, advertisers, and a handful of savvy publishers -- are enjoying an excellent fourth quarter in terms of online ad sales, with much of the success due to the interactivity of our medium. We achieve more than just impressions; we achieve tangible results.

I have no doubt that this is the current and future core of our business. No one can afford to cling to the decade-old notion that the online ad industry is just like the offline version. Why be satisfied if online advertising merely delivers "impressions" when there is so much more that we accomplish, and so much more that our clients demand?

True, we do deliver impressions, and we appreciate their value. But online media also offers an unprecedented and, for the moment, unique capability to link ad and sales dollars that static mediums just can't match. That transfer of data known as a click-through typically brings live consumers with credit cards to online stores in search of specific goods or services. A few clicks later, orders are placed and dollars are exchanged.

Any seller of goods or services will tell you that dollars trump impressions hands down -- and that's before you even start to add up the other benefits online advertising brings to the table, such as engagement, brand building, capturing customers, etc.

The beauty of online advertising is that the exchanges are qualitative, quantifiable, and, most important, actionable. Not only can we measure the success of our advertising, but -- at least in theory -- we can refine and improve its performance. The offline ad industry has struggled to achieve this sort of measurability since its inception. And now that we have it, some are suggesting we simply overlook it. Incredible.

The IAB and all likeminded thinkers need to understand this evolution can't wait five or 10 years. Our industry is blessed with the ability to deliver solid business results well beyond this rosy fourth quarter. We can prove our value across a range of measures from brand interaction to sales. Tools such as behavioral targeting broaden the scope of possibilities even further.

Instead of establishing guidelines to measure impressions, we should be establishing guidelines to measure all relevant metrics -- the true value of what we bring to the table. We shouldn't be asking ourselves to do the minimum for our clients, but the maximum. Furthermore, we need to develop and implement a standardized infrastructure that enables such wide-ranging measurement to take place. This is essential for the future success of our business -- not just for agencies and advertisers, but for publishers as well.

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