Think seriously for a moment: when was the last time you legitimately saw an ad online and clicked on it to find out more about the product being advertised? Unless you said, "Never," you are lying because nobody clicks on those pervasive distractions. The only time I even have an interaction with an ad is when I'm confronted with one of those sprawling bastards that go full-on face-hugger mode on my screen and completely block out all of the content that I'm trying to read/look at so I have to click on the X to remove the obstructing ad. Somewhere, some company might be generating ad revenue because I was attacked by the ad and had to interact with it, but my opinion certainly sours for that brand.
If you can help it, you probably try to avoid looking at the ads and you may not even realize it. That's fair, too: we don't use the internet because we want to view a virtual catalog of products, we use the internet to watch videos of animals falling asleep in hilarious places and then occasionally take breaks to read the news. Get out of our way, ads.
This willful avoidance of all banner ads is so prominent that it's even taken on a common industry name: banner blindness.
Nobody pays attention to these banner ads and yet they persist throughout the internet. How is that? Well, for one, they have to persist because that's one reason why the internet is able to maintain its vaunted openness. Some news outlets have had to implement a paywall in order to make up for the lack of ad revenue in the digital market, but generally online ad sales are what keep the internet (in its current incarnation, at least) afloat.
Regardless of your interaction with online ads, though, it turns out that simply having an ad be seen still counts more than anybody actually interacting with the ad. That much might sound obvious, but a new collaborative analysis by comScore and Pretarget today confirms that ad viewability and hover time are more strongly correlated with conversions than clicks or total impressions. The findings of the study suggest that the dusty model used by advertisers and media planners of trying to amass as many clicks as possible might need to be set aside in order to look to more meaningful metrics for evaluating a campaign's performance.
This seems to follow what Moat, developers of advertising tools, have anticipated due to their new ad platform, Metrics That Matter. The analytical tool is basically to your ads what Google Analytics is to your search traffic or what Facebook Insights is to your brand's Page. With it, you will be able to see exactly what kind of engagement that people have with the site beyond just clicking on it.
There have been some helpful how-tos about how to improve the deployment of banner ads but, realistically, banner ads aren't sustainable. They get in the way - in fact, all advertising gets in the way: that's why people change television channels when a commercial break pops up during their favorite Law & Order spin-off. Advertisers in the video medium have created a much better strategy for advertising that wholly circumvents the entire intrusion of ads, though, and it's only now beginning to be experimented with in the online market: product placement.
It's worked out marvelously in the movie and television industry. I hadn't even so much as thought about eating at Burger King in years until I saw Robert Downey, Jr., as Tony Stark mowing down on some Whoppers in Iron Man. I wanted to be charismatic and adventurous like Tony Stark, and surely if such a lifestyle was achieved by eating Whoppers, then that's where I should start, too, in order to carve out my piece of the glamorous lifestyle.
At least, that was the fantasy being packaged up in the product placement of Burger King food in that movie, and much to my embarrassment, it worked stupendously well.
Granted, I don't want to see a description of Taco Bell's Loco Tacos in an article I'm reading in the New York Times about the on-going slaughter of Syrian protesters. But with the legions of blogs and more blogs out there in the internet, it's somewhat dumbfounding that this hasn't tactic hasn't been successfully utilized.
Facebook and Twitter have attempted some variation of this with their promoted/sponsored Tweets and promoted Stories, respectively, but neither one are really genuine or even compelling. At best, they're contrived advertisements disguised in the skins of my friends' and followers' accounts. Seriously, Facebook, am I really supposed to take it that Mark M_____ is eager to let me know that he likes Hondas? No, and he probably doesn't give a toss, either. If he thought I did, I'm sure he's smart enough to know I'm smart enough to ask him.
Promoted or sponsored posts represent the most prominent application of product placement on a website and so far the strategy appears to be working given Facebook and Twitter both have recently made some notable acquisitions. Since this ad experiment is really still the first generation of this type of embedded strategy, it certainly has some kinks to be worked out. Still, it's novel, and as Nathan Kaiser expertly explained on nPost, novelty only works so long when it comes to online advertising. Given the ever-shrinking attention span of internet users, don't be surprised if the half-life of this marketing strategy lasts less time than banner ads seem to have lasted.
I've seen a similar strategy employed in some blogs I read wherein they're labelled sponsored posts. It took me a few turns before I figured out that they weren't actually posts from the blog I was visiting but rather an advertisement packaged to resemble a post on the blog. It was clever and, similar to every other advertising strategy, the novelty was lost on me after a while and now I just ignore them. That's not to say that this innovation couldn't be improved upon, though.
Putting all of your marketing faith on click-throughs no longer seems like a safe bet or even a fair bet. Kirby Winfield, Senior Vice President of Corporate Development at comScore, described how the comScore/Pretarget's study highlights some of the major shifts on the horizon for the digital advertising community. "It demonstrates the perils of relying on click-throughs for measuring the performance of display ad campaigns, with this metric showing virtually zero correlation with total conversions," Winfield said. "It’s time to start measuring the impact of campaigns using metrics that really matter, not just the ones that are most easily measured."
The current model does seem fairly inefficient and one-dimensional when you think about digital advertising in those terms. So for those of you working in the world of online marketing, how do you see the nature of advertising changing in the near future? Think there's any use for analytic tools like what Moat has developed that could change the way advertising sales are structured for businesses? Let us know in the comments below.