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Out, Damned Click. Out, I Say...

  |  June 19, 2001   |  Comments

Or should we say: "Out, out, brief candle! A click's but a shadow, a banner that floats upon a Web site and then is heard of no more: It is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing." Some would say so, but Jim doesn't go quite that far.

We in the industry have spent a good deal of time lately talking about ways to make online a better, more acceptable member of the advertising media mix. Demonstrations of branding value, a focus on conversion rates rather than response rates, and even the deconstructive exercise of swapping out some long-standing signifiers for more catchy, potentially accurate nomenclature have all been put forth as ways to move us toward a happier existence among our offline media brethren.

One of the elements that the industry is most interested in distancing itself from is the click, that erstwhile marker of success in the online advertising game.

As we all know, the click has held sway, and continues to do so in many circles, as the metric for success of an online advertising campaign. But ample evidence suggests, in fact, that little or no correlation exists between an impulse response to an ad -- that is, the click -- and the ultimate desired result or action. If what you want are on-the-spot conversions, then look at your advertising through that lens. If you are hoping for a lift in brand awareness, use that to shape the metric for success. Do not, however, glom on to the click as the surrogate measure for your campaign's success or failure.

So what can we do about this pesky click? How do we depose it as the ruler of online advertising metrics and put it in its proper place as a minor vassal in the domain?

Most of the suggestions, of late, have revolved around propping up alternative, more meaningful metrics that will give us a bigger picture and better view of what advertising really accomplishes for the product or service being advertised. By making things such as conversion, buying-power index, brand awareness, or purchase intent the heroes of our realm, clicks can find a comfortable supporting role to play.

More recently, however, more drastic measures are being considered and even taken. Gaining some popularity is the idea of fading clicks out as part of the standard data point on a report.

David Greenwald, veteran online and offline media sales whiz who headed sales efforts at such places as Deja.com (now part of Google and Snap! (now NBCi) recently said:

    In order to properly "turn the page," publishers all would need to follow the lead of sites like CBS MarketWatch and stop automatically putting click numbers on their reports and instead focus on the other, more valuable aspects of what the ad campaign on a site accomplished, like impact and recall to the target market and post impression/click conversation.

Doug Weaver, founder and president of the Upstream Group, also has proposed the removal of the click:

    There's a whole generation of clients out there who know nothing of the terror of the Ukraine. Do we propagate the tyranny of click-Stalinism in perpetuity just because that's what the first 3 percent of Internet ad buyers got used to? I'm not saying hide the clicks... just stop reporting them by rote the way we always have. Yes, take them off the report and only put them back when the client specifically asks for them.

I believe that the direction of this approach is correct, but removing Stalin's name from the facade of a building does not eliminate the fact of the pogroms in the Ukraine. If clients and agencies still ask to see click data, it should still be provided. That is not to say clicks should regain their position of primacy. But they are data points that can provide some kind of learning.

Weaver points out, rightly, that by including clicks, we will continue to propagate the mistakes of the past five years, but he goes further:

    Since (a) a click is not necessarily a sale/registration/conversion, (b) a sale/conversion/registration is not contingent on a click, and (c) clicks have no correlation whatsoever to brand value, then -- yes -- we've got to take clicks out of the discussion. Clicks will continue to dominate the discussion as long as they're present.

There is now a generation of clients not raised under the gray skies of the click-through rate (CTR) and the "2 + 2 = 5" of clicks, but those at the Fortune 500 and the Global 3500 seemingly are not among them. These are the folks asking for clicks. It is up to us to educate them away from that. But ignoring the lump does not prevent the cancer from metastasizing.

Clicks are not the problem. The lack of standards, of sensible measurements, and of research that demonstrates value are the problem. CTR is blood from the wound, not the cause of the affliction.

Especially if I'm a direct-response advertiser, clicks tell me something about creative and the impulse appeal of a value proposition. Telling me not to pay attention to clicks is like telling me it doesn't matter how many phone calls I get after I flash my toll-free number. Saying clicks have no correlation to brand value or any other form of subsequent action is like saying it doesn't matter if someone picks up your product off the shelf in the store after having seen your ad and holds it in his hands, turns it over, looks at the packaging, and reads the ingredients. Whether or not the individual buys it right then and there matters. Whether he buys it later matters. And the fact that he was enticed to at least consider the product definitely matters.

If this were a matter of moral import, I would say pluck out thine eye if thine eye offends thee. But this is not that kind of issue. Are clicks important? Not really. Do they tell us anything of value? Sometimes. Should they be the leg on which we continue to stand? Absolutely not. Should we do away with them all together? No.

The click is a red herring. More important issues are at hand. That we will solve our problems by ridding ourselves of the click is a fallacy.

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Jim Meskauskas Jim Meskauskas has had a long career in both traditional and interactive media. He was most recently the Chief Internet Strategist at Mediasmith Inc., where he worked with a range of clients -- from BabyCenter and CBS MarketWatch to Eidos Interactive, Roxio, and LuckySurf. He has also been in media at Hawk Media, Left Field, and USWeb/CKS. He is a founding board member of the Society for Internet Advancement San Francisco, where he oversaw communications. Jim is now developing an independent media consultancy called Media Darwin.

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