"Ironically, just as technology has given people the power to avoid advertising," Hirshberg said, "those same people are engaging with marketing and brands and advertising in a more emotional and collective way than ever before."
"Brands are becoming a powerful part of our popular culture and a powerful part of our cultural expression," he said. Brands, he added, confer "this incredibly powerful shorthand--like religion has, about expressing who we are to the world."
For those reasons, he said, people don't object to advertising--provided that it's not done in a way perceived as condescending. "These consumers are ... sophisticated in terms of their relationship to marketing," he said. "They know the tricks. They don't mind being marketed to--as long as they're marketed to well."
Hirshberg also disputed the notion that click-through and conversion rates accurately reflect the success of a Web campaign. "The key to effective measurement is agreeing what a win looks like with a client at the beginning," he said. For instance, rather than click-through rates, examining factors such as how long people interacted with an ad might prove more useful, Hirshberg said.
In fact, Hirshberg added, focusing on metrics like user engagement--as opposed to click-through rates or conversions--also can help agencies convince marketers that the Web works for branding, as opposed to solely direct response.