Monday, November 24, 2008

Online ads don’t sell your product

This was a comment I heard during a presentation the other day from a large media company. It was backed up by statistics from the companies internal tracking and some comScore reports. Apparently online ads get little results, so instead of saying that online ads are a tool to drive sales, advertisers are switching their tune to say online ads are now just another tool to build brand awareness. My thought is that advertisers have dropped the ball when it comes to online communication. They’ve trained the consumer to ignore ads by consistently delivering irrelevant content.

There are two reasons for this trained consumer behavior – the failure of ads to deliver and a Need for Impressions Inertia. Perhaps each influences the other.

A consumer is surfing the web, searching for Gluten Free Restaurants in New York. They see an ad that peaks their interest. When they click it, they end up on a generic company home page, miles from the content they went there to find. The trust is lost. The ad failed to deliver on its promise. The impact is felt across the online medium.

A perfect example of the Need for Impressions Inertia was given in that media presentation I mentioned. In the question period following the presentation there was some debate about the true purpose of online advertising. The following response was used to support the argument that impressions are a better indicator of an ads performance over click-through-rates. When asked for an example of a context where impressions served as a better indicator, the presenter described a media buy on the Weather Network for a communications company. The ads get in front of a lot of people..but people on the weather network are there for the weather, not the products the communications company sells. Wow. My obvious question – why were you serving ads on a content network that had no connection to the product? Would you advertise Kobe Beef on a PETA website? I mean a ton of people would see it, and it might even boost the brand awareness index. I guess the Need for Impressions Inertia is the legacy left from a generation of mass advertisers and another example of trying to fit an old business model into the new rules of marketing.

Online ads can deliver sales. Like ALL communications, there must be content, context, relevance to the audience, and a promise…that is delivered. We all know this. It's old news - so why does this continue? (feel free to let me know through your experiences)

There is obviously more to tracking online ads than a few metrics, but my point is only that advertisers often justify the media to your problem, versus solving your problem through any means possible. The result is a less than favorable ROI that hurts the media (even if it is useful), it hurts the consumer who can not trust the medium, and it hurts the company who has lost, yet another, opportunity.