I first noticed this ad nestled above-the-fold on the home page of UGO.com. The copy read "There is no web site for it. It's tender and spicy and you just go eat it." So naturally, I clicked on the ad six or eight times. With each click, something I had never seen happen online occurred: absolutely nothing. Go figure, an online advertising breakthrough was made by removing the click-through from the ad experience.
If you are compelled to dismiss this as a gimmick -- or worse, a lack of online expertise, keep in mind this ad campaign came from Wendy's, served through Mediavest and created by Saatchi and Saatchi -- a couple of buildings filled with people who know a thing or two about selling and advertising.
To consider the removal of the click through from an online ad a break through, you have to consider how we got "click here."
In 1999, when I joined what was called Affiliation Networks before it publicly auctioned itself under the name Snowball.com, early Yahoo employees started to vest their options. You started hearing about secretaries being worth millions. The "option" to make that kind of money selling media was unheard of, and the boom rumbled.
Despite the hype though, relatively few were making the jump to online from jobs at traditional media companies. More stayed than went and those who remained got defensive about the medium they served. They went out of their way to ignore and dismiss their new baby brother. "Ads on computer screens" aren't going to amount to much, was a common sentiment among traditional sellers and buyers at that time (similar to what mobile suffers from right now).
So what does a baby brother do when he is not getting the attention (and marketing dollars) he thinks he deserves? He reaches for something he has and his brothers don't and waves it wildly in the air. And that's what the early Internet sales forces and their buying counterparts did -- they waved the "click-through" flag, hoping to draw more attention faster away from their older, more established siblings.
Captured consumer response rates to advertising lived within other mediums (submitted reader service cards with magazines for example), but prior to the Internet, no other medium's sales teams placed this metric atop their value proposition totem pole. But the Internet was in a hurry and admittedly immature, and trumpeting click-through was the easiest way to cut the line. Ironically, the medium branded itself by this metric -- so today, regardless of who is buying what from whom online, click-through owns a high share of voice of the conversation.
Clearly we now have two camps. One makes its living by inducing click-through, while the other camp's value is arguably diminished when click-through enters the spotlight. Place the various forms of ad networks and the search engines in the first camp and branded content sites like Forbes.com in the latter. Standing in between are advertisers who say they are looking to accomplish both -- but often favor one camp over another.
In the case of Wendy's, the company's choice was abundantly clear. Forget the expense of building, monitoring and maintaining a Web site supporting the promotion of a tender and spicy product launch; just run the ad announcing its availability for anyone who's hungry.
Wendy's decision not to ask for any more of its consumer's time was strikingly refreshing, but does this campaign signal the end of the click-through? Not a chance. But does this effort shift the online advertising paradigm towards common sense? You bet.