Do Digital Advertisers Say What They Mean?

What do the Web sites of Facebook, Yahoo, ESPN, The New York Times, YouTube and CNET have in common? Aside from instant brand recognition, they are among the top ten sites in advertiser "conviction." What does that mean? Essentially, it means that more advertisers expect to run display advertising with this elite group than with any other site in the U.S.

Well, OK, then. If, in this economy, we could look at what advertisers believe these winners do extremely well, others could learn from their success. It would also be instructive, to say the least, to understand how advertisers view their own media selection priorities and compare what they say is important with their evaluation of the sites they most expect to run business in, during this challenging economy.

But first, let's set the table. Market intelligence firm Advertiser Perceptions (for whom I do consulting work) twice a year surveys more than 1,500 of the marketers and agencies involved in 80% of all U.S. spending. The data I use in this article comes from its "Advertising Intelligence Report Wave Ten," which examines the media decision process and marketer and agency views of the top digital, print and TV brands.

Who Are Those Guys, Butch?
Who are the leaders in advertiser conviction? Here are the top ten sites (of the 150 measured) that the greatest percentage of media decision-makers stated they will place advertising (display advertising only) in, during the first half of 2009:

3. MSN
5. AOL
6. MySpace
7. New York Times
8. iVillage
9. YouTube

Clearly, we have powerful digital brands representing the leading edge of the strongest marketing currents -- social media, mega-portals, sports, news, and consumer electronics/technology. Yet there are many other sites in each of these categories. The question then becomes, what makes these leaders in advertising conviction? And here we can learn much by examining the drivers for online advertising decisions.

What Advertisers Say and Where They Place the Money
Let's first compare what decision-makers say is most important in evaluating sites for their advertising, vs. how they view the top ten conviction leaders in online display advertising:



Online Publisher Insider-chart

Audience: Nobody Does It Better
Advertisers say that delivery of "ad results" is the most important criterion they use in their decisions to place business. And clearly these top sites do well on that front. But notice that these sites rule the audience categories -- reach, composition and engagement. Some of these leading sites are strong in all three of the audience criteria and others have stronger perception in a single audience criterion. The New York Times garners a very high index for audience engagement. Yahoo is a leader in audience reach. For audience composition, advertisers see ESPN and MSN as particularly strong. But one thing that each site has in common is that they index higher in at least one of the audience criteria than they do in the perception of any single non-audience-related selection criterion.

Indeed, we might not be off-track at all in surmising that the audience story that advertisers are buying in these sites is inextricably linked to their "results" story.

The Logic of Conviction
What is the message that advertisers are offering us in how they view the sites they are convinced they'll include in their spending plans?

First, they see these sites as achieving excellence on all three audience metrics -- reach, composition, and engagement. Secondly, these leading digital properties connect the dots between the results expected (from them) and the investment advertisers need to make with them. And rounding out advertisers' view of these sites is the belief that the sites provide the environment from a brand association and from a competitive perspective.

So the advertising community's message here -- that digital sellers should focus on audience, deliver the right results, and price accordingly -- is one they are stating with the greatest eloquence possible:  the eloquence of their ad dollars.



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