I used to be creative director on the Blue Cross account. We did some very nice advertising for Blue Cross. We even won some Clios (no thanks to me, I had great people working for me) -- back when Clios were worth something.
The primary objective of the advertising was simple -- to get people to apply for a Blue Cross policy.
The way we did it was to put 800 numbers in our TV spots and coupons in our print ads. We were clear why we put these response mechanisms into the ads -- because they were supposed to elicit a response.
We had an exceedingly stupid client. He insisted on evaluating our performance based on how many policies he sold. On several occasions I tried to explain to him that advertising could not sell his policies.
All advertising could do was to get people to either send in the coupon or dial the 800 number. Once they did that, it was out of our hands.
I tried to make it clear to this genius that the only logical way to evaluate our advertising was on how many coupons or phone calls it generated. That was advertising's job. The advertising couldn't answer the phone, talk to the customers, or write an attractive policy. That was his job.
Of course, being an imbecile, he never understood this and if he is still alive and sober somewhere I'm sure he still doesn't.
This is why the people who are trying to convince us that clicks don't matter are so wrong.
The only realistic expectation for display advertising is to generate clicks.
The argument that display ads should be evaluated on sales is wrong. The ad usually can't make a sale, it can only link us to someplace where a sale can be made.
The argument that a display ad should be evaluated as a "branding" mechanism is also unsound. Display ads have very little value as brand builders. They are largely invisible. They are no more effective as "branding" vehicles than any other small-space ads. To my knowledge there is no major brand of anything that has ever been built on display advertising.
The argument that display ads are an effective way to create awareness is similarly erroneous. In general, online advertising has proven to be extremely poor at generating awareness. Or, as one web usability guru says, web users "... almost never look at anything that looks like an advertisement."
The only realistic, worthwhile expectation for a display ad is that it will generate clicks.
Web gurus have their logic all backward. If, as they tell us, people who click are no more likely to buy than people who don't, it doesn't mean the click is worthless. It means where the click lands is.