Extra! Extra! Online Advertising Actually Has Impact

You’ve all read the press releases. Some of you may even be lucky enough to have read the reports. At long last, some research came out last week that is finally starting to answer some of the questions the industry has been asking.

I am referring to the research released July 18 that covered studies done by Dynamic Logic with the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) and MSN, and the DoubleClick study conducted by its research arm, Diameter.

The studies were released with some fanfare last week, with the heads of sales or, in the cases of the IAB and Dynamic Logic, the heads of the organizations themselves holding press conferences and scheduling phone calls with interested parties and general industry wonks to discuss the nature of the findings.

So, just what does the research show?

Well, really, there were no surprises to the unwavering faithful, those in the industry who have long been believers in the Web as a viable advertising vehicle.

As it turns out, online advertising can, indeed, have a significant impact on traditional branding metrics.

The IAB study found that the new larger ad units, renamed “Interactive Marketing Units” (IMUs) last February, tend to be 25 percent more effective in boosting key branding metrics such as awareness and message association with a particular brand. This study is probably a bit thin given the sample size (8,750 respondents), but it is the first indication that the new IMUs provide more bang for an online advertising effort since Snowball released similar information back in April.

DoubleClick’s study was more comprehensive. It tested which creative sizes are most effective, whether different ad technologies impact that effectiveness (audio versus Flash versus video, for example), and what kind of influence page implementation has on effectiveness (for example, superstitial versus inset). The study also included a total sample of 145,194 cases across 11 test conditions.

Lo and behold! DoubleClick found that online advertising provides lift to traditional branding metrics, too. A 468 x 60 ad can lift brand awareness 9 percent. A 336 x 80 ad can lift it 16 percent. Again, no surprise that bigger is better. Other relevant information can be found in the report, available at Diameter’s Web site.

The MSN study, which tested relative effectiveness of format sizes, also found that the larger formats worked better at generating lift for brand awareness. The skyscraper units (120 x 600 in this example) raised brand awareness 16 percent.

There is, of course, a lot more data to be found in all of these reports, but the net net (remember that catchphrase the freshly minted MBAs used to bandy about two years ago?) is that, yes, Virginia, online advertising does work like advertising.

This is exactly what I’ve been harping about for months now. And though it is far from being the end-all, be-all, the data is a significant step in the right direction.

I’ll admit that a couple of years ago I was highly skeptical of the online medium’s ability to accomplish traditional branding. Over time, my views have changed. And though I still don’t think it can make you cry like those old phone company ads used to (see the movie “Analyze This” for a spoof example), it can indeed do the work advertising has always been expected to do.

The release of this research is a far more important event for the online advertising industry than something like renaming online advertising assets to IMUs or dropping clicks from site reporting. Though every change and improvement made is significant, this is what the bulk of the advertising community has been waiting for.

Moving forward, we still need to do more research like this — to repeat such studies so that the influence of the “novelty factor” can be ameliorated; a wider variety of advertisers can be included, both established brands and the newer Net-centric and technology advertisers, to get a more even gauge of lifts in awareness metrics.

These are exciting times. We’re finally coming out of the end of the beginning. Only when real becoming is achieved can this industry really start being.

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