Time to move beyond the click

02 Aug 2011  |  Chris Worrell 
Chris Worrell

Chris Worrell, european research manager at digital media company Specific Media, argues that as our view of how the web can be utilised for marketing changes, so must our ways of measuring campaign success...

It may be a multi-billion dollar industry, but in many ways digital advertising is still in its infancy. Unlike the more established media where rules, norms, benchmarks and expectations have been finely honed, tweaked and perfected, digital advertising has no such rules, certainly no unquestionable ones.

One contributing factor is the pace and breadth of developments in the digital sphere - how consumers behave online and what online ads are capable of. The nascent digital world has probably changed more in the last decade than TV, radio, press and billboards did in the last century. Consequently, the landscape for digital attribution is currently in flux - torn between a received view of the web and the emerging view of its future.

The old philosophy was broadly that "The internet allows consumers to act on something instantly" - see an ad, click an ad, make a purchase. This is the reason so many direct response ad dollars have migrated online, to the detriment of newspaper classifieds. This has also shaped the way we have measured and evaluated digital to date, with the click emerging as the measurement of choice.

But the click is erroneous as a measurement and evaluation tool, attempting to resolve complex human behaviours down to a single action. Digital advertising is therefore caught in a paradox: clicks are easily measurable, which is why billions of ad dollars have shifted online, but this very measurability places a chokehold on the medium because of a fundamental flaw - people don't click.

In the web's early days, about one in seven users who saw an ad would click on it, driving traffic and creating leads. But clicking an ad was new and a novelty - a novelty that has since worn off. The CTR rate has bottomed-out at well below a fraction of 1%, and recent comScore data shows that 8% of US users account for more than 80% of clicks.

Moreover, online ads, like all ads, have a more subtle - and more meaningful - impact than just generating immediate clicks. If I walk past a billboard advertising a well known brand of fizzy cola, I don't feel compelled to find the nearest retailer to buy a pack of said brand. That doesn't mean the billboard has failed - it has helped build awareness, favourability and consideration of a product. It has value.

The inconvenient truth is that a multi-billion dollar industry is being assessed on a single kind of action performed by a tiny fraction of consumers.

This brings us to the new web philosophy. This is more along the lines of, "The internet allows consumers to do what they want, when they want". This is a more accurate observation of consumer behaviour - whether checking email, viewing video content or researching a new phone, the consumer is in control and the web enables them to act at their convenience.

To me, this appears the logical starting point for assessing the success of online campaigns. We should evaluate the value of digital advertising rather than the immediate response to digital advertising.

We should not be guided so heavily by the superficial 'ones and zeros' mindset of hard metrics, which conceal the real role that digital advertising plays, but think more of ways to measure the broader benefits. A 'lighter' approach in an industry dominated by 'hard' metrics.

At Specific Media, we have recently started using a number of tools to help achieve this. We now look at hover and dwell times in campaigns across Europe to measure the way a consumer interacts with digital advertising. A recent campaign for a large automotive brand in France, for instance, saw a standard CTR, but revealed a hover rate some 129 times greater.

We're taking this further with state of the art eye tracking technology, measuring time to recognition, dwell time, fixation order and other metrics against standardised benchmarks.

We're also looking at qualitative measures, using focus groups to probe consumer sentiment and measure brand health metrics.

These measures are complicated and the methods time-consuming, but the findings are invaluable. This kind of evaluation not only helps paint a fuller picture of campaign performance, but also provides invaluable insights that can help inform the success of future campaign.

These kinds of models of evaluation will become even more important in the future. Cisco estimates that in two years 90% of all web traffic will be video - this presents a massive opportunity for brand advertisers, but consumer response to video cannot be measured by clicks.

Digital is responsible for nearly one in four advertising pounds spent in the UK. If the industry is to continue to grow in revenue and standing, how and what we measure is critical. "Immediate response" versus "value": there is little debate. But the onus is on us as an industry to prove this value - only then can we ensure online advertising continues to deliver.

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