It’s not about the click / by Dan Weingrod

I heard about Comscore’s latest click study via a tweet from a friend as I was going into a client meeting. The headline read: “Study Shows 50% drop in number of US Internet users who click on Display Ads”. By pure coincidence part of the meeting was to be about online advertising and this could not have come at a better time.

For years my mantra has been “the best thing about online ads is that they are clickable…and the worst thing about online ads is that they are clickable”. Display clicks feel like a cross that all online marketers have had to bear since the beginning of the online advertising. For too many years I’ve sat in meetings and heard “We’ve spent this much dollars for so few clicks” from marketers used to the overwhelming reach and frequency numbers of offline mass media.

But times have changed and online display advertising’s role has to be looked at in a different light. So the Comscore headline felt like an addict’s first admission in a 12 step program. “Yes, I am addicted to clicks and yes I need to break the addiction”. Why? Because clicks don’t deliver the real results we are looking for and should no longer be seen as the primary metric for online display effectiveness.

The Comscore study, titled “Natural Born Clickers” nails something many of us have assumed for a long time. There is a small share of the internet audience that is doing the vast majority of the clicking. If this is the case, should online marketers be tearing out their hair and foreswearing online display? No, because as Comscore puts it:

“… marketers who attempt to optimize their advertising campaigns solely around the click are assigning no value to the 84 percent of Internet users who don’t click on an ad. That’s precisely the wrong thing to do, because other comScore research has shown that non-clicked ads can also have a significant impact. As a result, savvy marketers are moving to an evaluation of the impact that all ad impressions – whether clicked or not – have on consumer behavior, mirroring the manner in which traditional advertising has been measured for decades using reach and frequency metrics.”

The “other research” referred to are studies that have shown what we have seen anecdotally, that display ad generates relevant searches for brand and products, builds interest and measurable sales lift. All that without a click. We’re looking at this as an online marketing funnel where a coordinated, trackable mix of online display and SEM, leveraging behavioral and demographic targeting can deliver impressive growth in awareness, action and sales.

So when our meeting got around to the online advertising plan it was kind of liberating to bring up this information and use it to move the discussion away from the addiction to clicks and over to the more relevant role of online display, building brand, awareness and action.