What Is the Sound of One Ad Branding?

Although it’s always nice to be able to write articles that capture the interest and address the needs of your readership, it sometimes seems that I am preaching to the already converted. I believe in rich media advertising. Many of you believe in the potential of online and rich media advertising. The problem is, do the advertisers believe in online and rich media advertising?

Unless you’ve been in prison or on a deserted island, it probably hasn’t escaped your notice that the online ad biz has been suffering. Part of it is due to the economic downturn, and part of it is due to the history that advertisers have with online advertising.

I don’t find it surprising that advertisers who spent thousands and thousands of dollars on online advertising without getting much in the way of measurable return have pulled the plug on their online ad budgets. That makes good business sense and is probably prudent in any economy. But the question of an ad’s value comes into play here: What makes for a good measurable result?

Early online advertisers hung all of their hopes for an ad’s success on the click-through rate of that ad. This was a measurable and definitive indicator of how many people the ad reached. It was generally way off the mark as far as actual results, but it was an indicator nonetheless.

However, as click-through rate averages diminished, so did advertising dollars. “We gave it a go,” the advertisers said to the world. “Online advertising just doesn’t work anymore.” Well, I’m going to go out on a limb here and state that click-through never did work. Yes, driving traffic is often helpful, but measuring an ad’s effectiveness against click-through is kind of like a book reviewer determining the value of a novel by counting the number of pages it has. In literature, there is no direct correlation between page count and quality of writing, and in advertising there is no direct correlation between an ad’s ability to brand and the number of people who’ve clicked on it.

Consider the advertising models that we are all familiar with. TV advertisers, for example, don’t know exactly how many viewers saw their ads. Further, they have even less of an idea how many viewers saw an ad and acted on it. Yet, advertising on television, although currently in economic decline, is still a multibillion-dollar industry. If I can’t determine how many viewers are seeing my ads and how many are acting on my offer, why would I want to spend a great deal of money scattering my message to the masses? Simple. Branding works. It works for TV advertising, and it works for online advertising.

Television advertisers don’t expect immediate action on the part of their viewers. Instead, they expect that with enough exposure to the brand and messaging, the viewers will keep their brand in mind when they eventually need a product or service like the one they offer. It’s not a quick cycle for advertisers, and it requires little effort on the part of the viewer, and yet it works.

Consider online advertising in this light. Even without click-through rates, animated GIF ads will brand. If an advertiser gets a message in front of the viewer enough times, then branding will occur. Advertisers can use impressions to measure the effectiveness of the ad, not viewer action, and still get a fairly good indicator of ad effectiveness.

Now, consider rich media advertising. The very nature of rich media advertising is (or at least, should be) user interaction. But rich media ad designers aren’t kidding themselves. They know that not everybody who sees a rich media ad is going to interact with it. But a percentage will. For the viewers who don’t interact with the ad, branding is still taking place. For those who do interact with the ad, a different type of branding is taking place. I call it “cognitive acceptance.”

A number of studies throughout the years have concluded that people who are directly involved in an interactive event have a much higher retention level for the information learned and a greater willingness to do something with this information. The world of rich media advertising has also benefited from this model. Customers who interact with a brand have a greater retention of that brand, more willingness to purchase the brand, and a better conscious recognition of the brand and its benefits.

However, this is where rich media can really shine for advertisers. Although an interactive ad doesn’t necessary solve all of the problems regarding the vague measurements of success for an online ad, it does bring advertisers closer to getting a real count of how many of those customers paid attention to the ad (as an example, Enliven ads averaged a 15 percent interaction rate in 2000 and the first half of 2001). By building in simple measuring criteria such as a purposeful rollover (“Drag the basketball to the hoop for your chance to win!”), advertisers can measure the number of users who purposefully interacted with the ad. If you can measure the interaction, you can more greatly measure the branding effectiveness.

Now, keep in mind that traditional aspects of advertising, such as quality of ads, focused demographics, and exposure of ads, still have a lot to do with the overall effectiveness of any campaign. However, if you add the functionality and ad reporting that rich media vendors can provide, you realize that online rich media advertising has only just now started to realize its potential.

Advertisers who are looking away from this market are looking in the wrong direction.

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