June 11, 2012

Why Clicks Matter

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.


Greg Satell said...

I think you're missing the point here.  Lots of people say lots of things, but the difference between Cost per thousand and cost per action, practically speaking, is who will optimize the campaign.
If I think I can optimize my campaign better, then it is better for me to choose where and when I want to show my ads.  If not, it is betteer for me to by CPA, lock in my cost and let the ad network choose the where the banner ads go.
Of course, that's also not really the whole story, because a lot of the banner ads today go towards seeding something else, like watching a video or creating some initial traffic for a web site, etc.

- Greg

Johnny said...

If no-one clicks ads anymore, and people tune out anything that looks like an ad online, when will brands wake up and stop making them? 

And if/when they do this, what will happen to all the little ad-funded websites out there?

Just wondering out loud. It'll never happen - there are too many dumb marketers out there.

Paul Benjou said...

 For SEM, an ad that appears is a search query but is not clicked on can be considered branding in a good way ... simply because it's not paid for.  I'll take that bonus deal any time of the day.

James said...

If response is the objective, I won't get into the response versus awareness argument but it's a good idea to understand what your objective is, then treat the banner ad like the outer envelope of a direct mail package. The OE has one objective, to be opened, the Banner's objective is to be clicked. If it isn't being clicked, it isn't working.

Chris Seiger said...

The argument is moot when the client doesn't understand. They want what they want. At that point, it's hey-diddle-diddle charge of the Light Brigade time. That or resign the account. 

I think many marketers are in the position of having brainwashed clients forcing the agency to do mediocre ineffectual crap, and then blaming the agency for it. 

As for banner ads, I think of them like newspaper ads. Little ads surrounding the content I actually came to see. To get my attention, they usually have to be a coupon or offer that makes me happy.

Dave said...

Anyone can buy their media on a CPC, Paul. SEM is not the be all and end all of digital marketing.

Paul Benjou said...

 Dave...  SEM is just a segment of an overall digital mix ... but it works better than most channels.  I also agree that anyone can buy media on CPC, but not everyone can do it effectively.  There is an underlying science there that many marketers fail to recognize and take advantage of.

timorr said...

Here's an article I came across today: http://www.dmnews.com/dma-direct-mail-response-rates-beat-digital/article/245780/?DCMP=EMC-DMN_iMktingNewsDaily&spMailingID=4373374&spUserID=MjI0Mjk1OTIyNwS2&spJobID=45790322&spReportId=NDU3OTAzMjIS1

I haven't tracked down the original study, but it appears that snail mail is about 36 times as effective as e-mail in getting a response, and even though the ROI of e-mail is about 4x that of snail mail, that would still work out to snail mail's being about 9x as effective as e-mail.

There's also something suggesting that only about 6 percent of clicks result in conversions (sales) at the time of the click.