Click through rates, do they always matter?

Guess what I learned today?  Johnny Depp is the voice of a cute Lizard in Rango that is in theaters March 3rd.  Oh and guess what else?  Faceoff, a new show on SyFy premieres tonight at 10pm and Ford is committed to more energy efficient vehicle technology.  Guess how I learned all of this.  I did not click on any banner.  Let me be clear, did you all get that?  I actually learned something from an online ad and did NOT click on the banner.

Good for me, that means when my niece comes to visit in early march, I have a good idea that I’ll be going to see this new children’s flick; it means that if I cared about getting into this new show Faceoff (which I don’t, its just not my kind of show) I could make a note to tune in to the first episode tonight, or set my DVR from my handy dandy fios app; and lastly if I was in the market for a new car (which many would argue I am, but I happen to love my 97 Honda POS) I know that Ford is producing full lines of energy and gas efficient vehicles should I choose to review their vehicles as an option.

How do you measure that?  According to so many, because I noticed these ads, got exactly what I needed from them, but did not offer up a click, it didn’t work.  To me, that’s absurd.  By that line of reasoning, we should dismiss our hardworking creative efforts for the past however many years in print, outdoor and television as nothing more than visual trophies that agencies can toss around for bragging rights. After all, you can’t click on them so they can’t be working.  Client got nothing out of them, right?  Sorry, we know that’s not true.  I mean, how may clicked on that billboard by Newark airport?  How many people tuned in or bought something specifically because of the commercial they saw on TV, exactly how many people?  When you can tell me that I’ll understand why TV still gets the lions share of media dollars.

Bottom line is we attach values to this more “traditional media.”  Aren’t outdoor billboards bought and sold based on volume of traffic relative to view?  Aren’t TV spots bought based on number of perceived viewers watching a show during a given time slot combined with demo?  I’m struggling to find the difference in how we buy or price ads online.  It’s all relative to traffic, period.  The more eyes, the more value and hence the more an ad spot will cost.

Before you get your iPod wires in a crinkle, hold on.  I get it.  We as web creatives, should be striving to get individuals to interact, because this happens to be the one and only medium in which they can.  The onus is on us to create ads that speak to people and resonate with individuals.  And yes to Mr. Wasserman, who wrote an excellent article titled, “The race to build a better banner,” we can certainly all agree that more clicks would be great. I just feel that to be held to click through rates as a core measure of success is asinine in today’s fragmented landscape.  In my opinion, this is all a matter of who you are and what you’re trying to accomplish as an advertiser.

In my opinion, this problem arises from a number of converging issues.  The need for better measurement tactics, the need for better education for our clients, many of whom still don’t understand the space well enough.  In the simplest form, are we always clear with what we ask of a user when we serve an ad? And probably most importantly, how to we reward them for interacting and interrupting their experience?  To me, its a matter of what business you’re in, and what you need to accomplish.  Sweepstakes entries requires clicks.  Finding out about a show or movie premiere does not.

An industry torn: Click Thru vs. Awareness

Lets take an industry very dear to me.  Television.  TV networks eternally struggle with what their digital display media should do: Should it inform and splash tune in messaging around so we know to tune in for the premiere is Friday, Tomorrow and tonight?  Or should it get people to the site.   The problem has waged war internally between site staff and marketing staff for the past 11 years I’ve been managing my clients in the digital space, and there is no foreseeable end in the future.   But remember, I learned all I needed to learn at the moment about Rango, the new movie that’s launching March 4th, from simply seeing the banner next to content.   So if the goal is to drive tune in, then let’s make that the focus.  If it’s to drive entries, then we want clickthorugh.  If it’s to sample video, then we want interaction rate and engagement time with video views.  Measuring media success with a catch-all stat has never, and will never work for advertisers.

I can go into a slew of items that we’ve come to adopt as “best practices” for online advertising, but what the hell does best practices mean in a world that changes near daily?  The bottom line is that we, as an industry, need to get smarter.  Smarter in how we advertise online, and smarter in how we work to educate our clients on a landscape that shifts like clouds over Kauai.  We all have the opportunity to be pioneers these days, with every single campaign we wage online.  And we need to understand what our successes really are, versus what we’ve wanted them to be for 15 years.  It’s on us, as creatives, to continue not just building what publishers and vendors offer, but what we believe will help our advertisers deliver their message effectively.  We must always consider the audience first and what we want from them.  To do so, we must define our goals clearly at the onset and manage client expectations accordingly.

I think, in general, advertisers know that the Click is not the end all be all.  They understand the benefits, or at least are beginning to understand, the benefits of frequency and intent to tune in, vs click thru translating to tune in.  Yes, there are still many holdovers who are conditioned to stick with this as the party line, but in reality it’s shortsighted and a very lazy way to approach your online Display strategy and measurement.

I don’t feel as though we’re in the dark ages as an industry, as the IAB apparently does.  I feel as though we’re in a renaissance period, and it continues to get better as we press forward and innovate for tablet devices.   The fun is about to start all over again.

After all, in the race to build the better banner, the winner, in the end, should be the user.

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