Study: Ad Networks Have Their Place, But Content Drives Key Brand Metrics

Pam Horan of OPAWhile ad networks continue to garner the glory, media buys across branded content sites, or properties like iVillage and Discovery that fall under the Online Publishers Association (OPA)'s umbrella, are often still priced at a premium. And according to new OPA research, those higher-priced CPMs are justified, as branded content sites have a greater impact on key metrics like brand favorability and purchase intent than ad networks, portals and even Internet industry norms (as determined by Dynamic Logic's MarketNorms).

"We're not saying ad networks or portals are bad," said OPA President Pam Horan. "There's a place for them within the media plan. But the environment that an ad is placed in is key, particularly when it comes to driving decisions that are further down in the purchase process."

For example, ads that ran across branded content sites raised brand favorability 22% more than the same ads did across portals. In terms of purchase intent, ads on branded content sites lifted the metric about 13% more than ads on portals did. And when compared with ad networks, ads that ran on branded content sites provided double the lift in both brand favorability and purchase intent.

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The research also found that branded content sites tended to outpace industry norms, ad networks and portals for non-banner advertisements, including site sponsorship, video and rich media ads. Video ads that were placed on content sites, for example, were 82% more effective at raising aided brand awareness, and 67% more effective at raising brand favorability than the industry average.

Meanwhile, rich media ads were 25% more likely to be seen on a branded content site than an ad network, and consumers were about 66% more likely to remember the ads they had seen on said site. "Branded content sites are doing a particularly effective job of delivering results with emerging advertising formats, including video and rich media," Horan said.

Sites like Brides.com, Beliefnet and The Huffington Post were also more likely to draw in consumers ages 18-34 who were responsive to ads. These younger consumers were 33% more likely to form favorable opinions about the brands advertised when the ads ran on branded sites than on portals. And they were 50% more likely to make a purchase.

"That was one of the most interesting data points," Horan said. "There's so much discussion in the marketplace about where younger consumers are spending time online, and whether they're interested in properties like newspaper sites. This research found that the younger set is using and visiting these sites, and more importantly, responding to the ads on them."

Horan said that OPA chose Dynamic Logic's MarketNorms to benchmark the study because it was a tool that the agency community was familiar with. "We wanted to put some numbers against the hypothesis that a 'clean, well-lit' online environment is providing brands with better results," Horan said. "And have them be held against an established industry standard."

Dynamic Logic, a division of Kantar, WPP's research and consultancy arm, analyzed nearly 4,000 campaigns over the course of three years (through fourth-quarter 2007) to develop MarketNorms. The ads featured over 163,000 different types of creative that reached over 6 million Internet users. New York-based OPA is a trade association that represents over 60 online media properties.

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