Square Peg, Round Hole?

We eat, sleep, and breathe in a world filled to the brim with news, information, entertainment, and advertising messages streaming through car radios, cell phones, personal digital assistants (PDAs), televisions, newspapers, and PCs. Billboards, blimps, commuter rails, bus wraps, cocktail napkins, bathroom stalls, and mall floors have become laden with advertising. Let’s face it, a URL can be slapped on just about anything from soda cans to temporary tattoos to milk caps to medicine bottles and pizza boxes these days. As advertisers, we quest for our messages to be top of mind, recognized, and clicked on and for them to resonate in the minds of consumers everywhere.

The ultimate challenge still remains: How can we capture someone’s attention in a millisecond when the competition is a mere click away? Gone are the days of media planners being taxed with the good old “Why you should advertise online.” Here are the days of being catapulted into “How you should advertise online.” If you are reading this, you’ve been there, done that — and it wasn’t easy.

Fact of the matter is, it’s getting harder. Haven’t we been beaten up enough? We’ve been scrutinized for all the dumb businesses that persuaded an overwhelming number of now- gone venture capitalists who invested, funded, and incubated those germs into a widespread disease. For instance, take the 25-pound bag of dog food. Who the heck thought it was viable to center an e-business on buying a 25-pound bag of dog food over the Internet? Sure, advertisers built strong brands, but they were for e-companies like those. After all, how could any of us forget the sock puppet?

Many still think the No. 1 attribute of interactive advertising is trackability. As I’m sure you’ve heard all over the news, CBS MarketWatch.com recently stood up to relegate the dreaded click-through rate (CTR) to the back burner. This has caused a great debate among comrades. Instead of saluting a large player for saying what we’ve all been thinking for years, many have chastised instead. Why? Fear, pain, and discomfort? After all, we fear what we don’t know.

My pal Scot McLernon, executive VP of sales at MarketWatch.com, cleared the air by saying it was an “emphasis shift” away from the CTR. Scot said, “All we have done is to change our default reporting template — to start with a clean slate.” What an understatement, Scot!

If we refuse to track click-through, are we afraid we won’t be able to sell online media? Clients are used to tracking, analysis, and optimization. Will we be able to comfortably “omit” this bucket of data? Many questions still remain.

So what’s the new Holy Grail you ask? I can’t say that I know. I don’t think it is about “interactive” anymore… but it is about “interactivity.” The Internet Architecture Board (IAB) just put out a list of 28 ways to use online advertising. Only one was to drive traffic. We all agree that we need better metrics to validate a user’s experience.

Many are shifting away from click-through and onto branding as the key measurement. Branding is a key measurement, but let’s not forget about brand recall, brand interest, and overall user experience. Branding is not here to replace the click-through. I don’t think MarketWatch.com thinks so, either. It doesn’t have to be all or nothing. Let’s get back to the basics: Online advertising is and always was advertising. According to Morgan Stanley, consumers show a 27 percent greater ability than before to recall a brand after seeing an Internet ad. By the way, magazines yielded 26 percent, newspapers 23 percent, and television 17 percent.

More of us need to stand up and support MarketWatch.com’s first step toward a solution. Who better to do so than the innovators, pioneers, and dot-com fallout survivors? Let’s put on our collective thinking caps and generate that solution. So come on, join me. After all, wasn’t the CTR “a square peg in a round hole” theory?

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