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Publishers Need To Help Brands Move Beyond The CTR


jeffbandersellsiderThe Sell Sider” is a column written by the sell side of the digital media community.

Today’s column is written by Ephraim Bander, president and chief revenue officer at Sticky.

For brand advertisers, clicks don’t count. But not all brand marketers are ready to accept that reality.

Clickthrough rate (CTR) is among the worst measures of the efficacy of a digital, brand-focused ad. It simply does not reflect the big picture of the consumer experience. Publishers know this, but it’s time they educated their brand advertisers about it.

For every brand-based ad that a consumer clicks, there are probably hundreds that she does not. This doesn’t mean she didn’t see them or isn’t aware of the brand that she just saw; she just chose not to click or to act at that time. The key word here is “chose.” If someone who sees an ad makes a conscious decision not to click, that still means she saw the ad and responded accordingly, even if, in this case, it was by choosing not to act.

Take, for example, a nationally known consumer brand like Coca-Cola or a fast food chain like McDonald’s. Since nobody can buy a two-liter Diet Coke or a Quarter Pounder with cheese online, the odds that a consumer will feel a pressing need to click these ads are pretty slim. But that doesn’t mean she didn’t see them. It doesn’t mean the brands aren’t now at the top of her mind and that she won’t stop at McDonald’s on her way home from the grocery store, where she bought a few bottles of Diet Coke. Just because she didn’t click doesn’t mean she wasn’t motivated to make these purchases because of her exposure to the ad.

Even though consumers react to brand advertising in different ways and on a different timeline than they do to direct-response ads, many brand marketers still decide which publishers will get their ad dollars based on who drives the most ad traffic to brand sites. Publishers that might actually give a particular brand ad the most exposure may still stand to lose major ad contracts because their ads don’t generate the most direct traffic via clickthroughs. To mitigate this loss and to prove their worth, publishers must demonstrate their value to brands in a different way. They need to prove that an advertiser’s content was actually seen on their site and created awareness for the brand. Of course, if it’s on the site but still unseen, it is like the proverbial billboard at the bottom of the ocean.

The MRC Viewable Ad Impression Measurement Guidelines (PDF) are a starting point for building a new measurement system for publishers, in that they set up specific rules for how to better determine whether a part of a website – and therefore the ads on it – is visible (or viewable) to consumers who visit. The guidelines stipulate that “50% of pixels must be in the viewable portion of an Internet browser for a minimum of one continuous second to qualify as a viewable display impression.” Following these guidelines will enable publishers to optimize their site design and focus on selling space that can be viewed. But that’s just it – we’re talking about what can happen, not the reality of what does happen.

We cannot assume that every viewable ad is viewed or absorbed by consumers. A consumer might decide to get a glass of water while video pre-roll plays. She might scroll right past a prominently placed static ad. Uninteresting or irrelevant ads that are ostensibly viewable but don’t grab the users’ attention won’t drive conversions down the road, and are therefore of negligible value to the marketer.

Viewability may be a major metric for publishers right now, but it isn’t what’s next. Viewability is not enough in the long run to assure marketers that they’re deriving value from their investment. Moving beyond viewability, publishers need to create a currency that measures whether brands are actually seen on their sites. One of the ways this can be done is by soliciting feedback that goes deeper than clicks. Did consumers use a discount code during an online transaction that she only would have seen in an ad running on the publisher’s site? Did sales of a seasonal product that was only advertised on the site spike during the campaign? These metrics are valuable, and they can tell us a lot about whether the ads a publisher ran were effective, but it can take weeks, or even months, to prove a correlation between real-world performance and publisher placement.

Publishers can also look for faster feedback in the form of market research – conducted either internally or by a research firm – that asks consumers what they saw or noticed about a specific page. Whose ads appeared on the page? What did they remember about them? These impressions can be reinforced by biometric responses measuring indicators such as a consumer’s pulse or her brain waves while looking at certain content. If a brand is seen on a publisher’s page, the publisher has done their job. Then it becomes the brand’s turn again to convert the viewer.

Follow Ephraim Bander (@Stickyadman), Sticky (@sticky_ad) and AdExchanger (@adexchanger) on Twitter.

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