Online Publishers Keep Piling Up the Numbers

Looking to jump start a somewhat inert industry, some of the biggest names in online advertising have released studies touting its effectiveness.

The first Web publishing heavyweight was Microsoft’s MSN, which teamed with consumer goods advertising giant Unilever. The six-week study, endorsed by industry groups such as Interactive Advertising Bureau and the Advertising Research Foundation, looked at the total ROI from Unilever’s television, print and online advertising campaigns for its Dove Nutrium soap. It also projected what would happen if Unilever took small portions of its TV and print budgets and re-allocated them to the Internet.

The projections, calculated by Rex Briggs of research firm Marketing Evolution, suggested that increasing online media as a percentage of total spending improved ROI significantly — partially because advertisers can get good value from online media at its current low CPMs.

“Each element of a marketing mix should do something different,” said Briggs, “but they reinforce each other.”

According to the study, increasing the frequency of online ads from 1.7 impressions to 3.1 impressions over six weeks — while reducing TV and print by 0.5 and 0.6 impressions — would have boosted unaided brand awareness by 11 percent among the target female demographic. On the same basis, increasing online ad impressions to 12.5 impressions would have resulted in a 32 percent lift.

It was a similar story for brand image (which tested for recall of specific Nutrium message): increasing online ads to 3.1 impressions resulted in a 32 percent lift, while 12.5 impressions would have resulted in a 73 percent increase.

Purchase intent — probably the most intuitive metric for gauging ROI — would have increased 49 percent with 3.1 impressions, and a staggering 152 percent after 12.5 impressions.

The online ad used in testing was a relatively ordinary animated skyscraper GIF. It did not use streaming video, layouts with one ad per page or the “large rectangle” format — all of which have been proven to boost branding (see Banners Can Brand, Honestly They Can, Part II).

Should the findings be indicative of real-world campaign results, it would be a major vindication for the online ad sales industry, which has undertaken a series of self-improvement, research and educational initiatives designed to persuade offline advertisers to move their budgets online.

The New York Times’ online unit has also put forth research on its “surround sessions” concept, in which site visitors receive ads from a single advertiser for the entire duration of their stay. The ads can include banners, “large rectangle” sizes, skyscrapers and buttons.

Research conducted by Dynamic Logic on behalf of New York Times Digital found that advertisers testing the format — which include American Airlines and AstraZeneca Pharmaceuticals — saw sizable increases in brand awareness, favorability and purchase intent.

On average across the advertisers’ campaigns, the surround session format generated an 11 percent lift in brand awareness, nearly three times greater than consumers that weren’t exposed to the campaign. Surround sessions generated 61 percent message association — more than four times the average consumer. The format also tripled brand favorability, to 3 percent, while quadrupling purchase intent, to 4 percent.

“What we’re really focusing on from the surround session experience is duration — time spent,” said NYTD vice president of marketing Craig Calder. “The fact that someone is spending an average of 11 minutes with advertisers’ messages, as compared to traditional media when it’s more like 30 seconds per clip, there’s an ability to connect with user that’s really proven out.

Results from AstraZeneca’s Nexium campaign also proved particularly telling. That effort used about 30 different executions with a range of different objectives — such as straightforward branding or specific calls to action, like links to white papers and coupon downloads. The resulting campaign boosted brand awareness from 1 percent to 20 percent.

“They had so many different creative executions and they really took advantage of the medium,” Calder said. “Trying a combination of goals, in terms of combining branding with direct response and benefit-driven creative, really gives advertisers the most bang for their buck.”

Christopher Saunders, from internet.com’s Internet Advertising Report, contributed to this article.

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