Should Online Ad Campaigns Ever Be Deemed 'Finished'?

Recently we have questioned the effectiveness of metrics, but have we considered that it could be how we're using the metric--not the metric itself--that is negatively impacting campaign performance?

Imagine this: You're the head of a media-buying department for your online advertising company, ad network or agency. Let's say you're doing some media planning to promote a new electric Tiki-torch, and the goal of the online campaign is to generate awareness, traffic and sales to your Web site. Looking at your budget planning grid, you have the first half of May circled on your calendar as the time for the next big online ad buy, right in time for Memorial Day and the outdoor BBQ season--perfect timing for selling new Tiki-torches.

You, along with your department and/or client, decide that the campaign will run from May 1-20. You'll finish up with a final report showing impressions and clicks evaluating its success.

This standard evaluating procedure should warrant concern. What if "Bob" saw the Tiki-torch ad, was intrigued, but didn't click the ad or buy in time for Memorial Day? Bob is counted as an impression, but not as a click or sale.

However, since the ad was interesting, Bob remembers it four weeks later. He hadn't seen it advertised anywhere else since then, but remembers that funky URL stamped on the ad. Bob then visits the site and buys some Tiki-torches. Shouldn't this chain of events be attributed to the initial Memorial Day ad campaign?

My answer is "yes." But with current methods of defining and measuring online ad campaigns' successes within set time frames, this event would not be documented.

With offline advertising, the stringent time frame makes sense. For example, once a billboard ad is taken down, the campaign is finished. Take the example of a billboard ad in Times Square. During its 15-day buy run, it reaches millions of people who walk in Times Square. The advertiser notices an increase in store traffic and Web site visits during this time, but can't differentiate the billboard buy against other brand advertising happening across other media. These increases are strong for this 15-day period, and volume is still above average (although dwindling) each day afterward for a few weeks. The advertiser thinks the ad must have been effective--it certainly looked great and seemed to cause a stir from tourists taking pictures.

The same 15-day ad buy online can reach millions of people who visit a publisher's site. The advertiser knows the number of times the ad loads, the number of people who click on the ad and then visit the site. They notice an increase in store traffic and Web site visits, and can differentiate some real success metrics from this particular ad buy against all other media. The increased site traffic keeps averaging higher for a few weeks after the ad buy is "done." The company is able to track the number of visitors who saw the ad on the publisher's page, didn't click on it that day, but who typed in the URL nine days later based on seeing that ad. The "picture" of the ad was clearly taken mentally and processed for future use by these particular visitors.

In each scenario, the advertiser was completely brand-focused, and had the goal of spreading awareness. Why wouldn't a brand advertiser want to keep learning about the impact of its branding campaign days, weeks or months later with real data? Wouldn't those results impact future decisions? Online you can tell how long the mental pictures reside and result in the goal of the campaign, while offline you can't.

If you run a business or a department, you need to have firm dates in place to properly track your expenses each month. However, in terms of evaluating the success and impact of your campaigns, most advertisers make a huge mistake in not extending a campaign's evaluation period further.

We should be leveraging the inherent advantages digital media has over traditional offline models. Simultaneously, we should have metrics in place that measure more than immediate reactions to ads. The technology is now sophisticated enough for us to go deeper. The question is, are we?

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