Escaping the Cult of Click-Through

High click-through rates. Clients demand it, media planners live for it, media sites promise it, and ad servers measure it. It is, more often than not, the yardstick for our online branding efforts.

Of course, what is great about click-through is that it is quantifiable. It looks good on a spreadsheet. It can be tracked. Plans can be “optimized” based on it. But as more and more sophisticated online marketers are realizing, focusing on click-through as a measure of branding success can be completely misleading.

When all is said and done, it’s easy to get clicks. Just offer free sex, a lifetime supply of beer, or a vacation to Mauritius. That’ll get clicks. Or use a “tricky” banner that deludes people into thinking they can speed up their Internet connection (as one annoyingly ubiquitous ad does).

But no matter how many clicks you get, if your client’s objective is to build its brand on the Internet, offering free sex probably is not a strategy. If your job is to build the right perceptions of a client’s brand, click-through just isn’t the right measure of success.

Of course, a compelling creative unit can be both a great branding unit as well as offer a strong call to action. Some of the best branding ads do get high click-through rates. And many online campaigns aren’t meant to build brand, but rather to get registrations, new customers and sales. Click-through is a better metric for those types of campaigns (although measuring the end result, like registrations and sales, is even better). But when it comes to straight branding, measuring click-through falls short.

One of the most disheartening things about the cult of click-through is that it is hampering the growth of the online advertising industry. Some clients think that falling click-through rates mean declining effectiveness. And, as many of us know, trying to justify a multi-million dollar media investment based on the .5 percent of the target that is going to click is difficult, if not downright foolish.

Think about it, though. When you put an advertisement on the side of a bus, no one can click on it (yet). But advertisers have known for a long time that outdoor advertising is effective in increasing awareness and pushing brand values. There are even ways to measure the effects of this advertising.

Unfortunately for traditional advertisers, these methods are extremely costly and require pretty big leaps of faith. But online marketers are fortunate, because we can measure the effects of ad exposure, scientifically and quantitatively, regardless of clicks. Tools are available that can allow us to break away from the cult of click-through and prove to clients the true value of Internet brand advertising.

How do these tools work? Using a combination of cookies and surveys, we can compare the degree of exposure to certain elements of an advertising campaign against brand awareness and brand perception. We can compare Jane’s attitude, (which we know has been exposed to three banners) with Jill’s, whom we know hasn’t been exposed at all.

New research technologies allow this type of brand tracking to happen in real time. With these new metrics, we can optimize based on the brand impact of specific elements of an online campaign. And we can isolate which ads work best against specific audiences for specific brand attributes.

Online advertising has a leg up on traditional advertising; it is more measurable. We just need to use metrics that show its true strength.

Next time: An exploration of the different ways we can measure branding effectiveness and a look at some case studies that have proven that online branding works.

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