More Proof That It's The Media, Not The Creative

Years ago when I was at K2 Digital, the company's CEO Lynn Fantom taught me about how traditional direct marketers isolated the variables in their DR campaigns to determine which were most critical to success. With a fairly basic analysis of data from a number of online campaigns spread across several clients, we showed that the media environment had a much greater influence on overall success than creative or creative format.

It's been several years since then. Lynn is now running ID Media and I've worked for several companies since. Along the way, though, I've never seen anything that challenged the notion that online media environment is more important than creative factors in the success of an online campaign. Forgive me if this represents the umpteenth time I've trotted out the variable isolation anecdote, but I'm getting the sense that it's not sinking in. After all, we see quite a huge deal being made of the latest rich media formats, ad sizes and creative optimization technologies, and less of a fuss about site-to-site optimization and time/place factors.



Today, the IAB and comScore released some research on Measuring the Effectiveness of Sponsored Search Marketing. The study, which was executed across 16 travel and finance brands, showed that sponsored listings deliver significant value to marketers, not just at the time of the click, but in the weeks following. But that wasn't what jumped out at me.

What really jumped off my computer screen was an analysis of conversion rates, comparing sponsored listings to regular search listings. From a conversion perspective, sponsored listings were 200% more effective than free search listings in the finance category.

Which begs the question...What is it about a paid search listing that's so different from a regular, run-of-the-mill search listing that it can produce that kind of lift? It really can't be the creative. After all, we're talking only a couple lines of text here.

If I had to theorize, I'd say it's a combination of two things that are media placement-driven and have nothing to do with creative. Sponsored listings, in their most common form, are distinct from free listings. They're labeled as sponsored listings and they're sometimes even placed in a different section of the page. When consumers search, they see relevant links come up within that section. Over time and over several searches, they come to expect relevance from this area of the page, and they're more apt to follow the links there.

Adam Gelles, director of industry initiatives at the IAB, was quoted as saying that search marketing has more than tripled its share of the interactive marketing pie from 2001 to 2002. In this world of more new rich media formats than you can shake the proverbial stick at, how is something that uses plain text growing at such a rapid rate? It's because it works. And it works because of media placement factors, not because of whiz-bang creative.

This isn't to say that creative is simply unimportant. Creative just isn't as important as the media placement to the success of an online campaign.

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