The Growing Problem with Online Display Advertising: Direct Response Squares off against Brand Marketing Online

Article excerpt

IN A RECENT DISCUSSION of online display advertising, Erin Hunter, EVP at comScore, said the following:

"While the click can continue to be a relevant metric for direct response advertising campaigns, certain studies demonstrate that click performance is the wrong measure for the effectiveness of brand-building campaigns. For many, the branding effect of the ads is what's really important and generating clicks is more of an ancillary benefit. Ultimately judging a campaign's effectiveness by clicks can be detrimental because it overlooks the importance of branding while simultaneously drawing conclusions from a subset of people who may not be representative of the target audience."

Since recent digital industry reports have questioned the efficacy and future of online display advertising, Ms. Hunter's comments are interesting on a number of levels. If, as she asserts, the subset of people who click on an ad is not representative of the target audience, then I have three questions: Who is clicking? Why are they clicking? And what value, if any, do they hold?


We'd always been told that buying online advertising was the future because the medium offered advertisers better targeting and results. Now we are told this may not be the case. The comment that clicks are an "ancillary benefit" sounds an awful lot like something out of the print ad seller's handbook (circa 1999), when clients would chastise the rep's property for not delivering enough leads. As Yogi Berra once said, "It's deja vu all over again."

The age-old debate pitting direct response marketing against brand marketing is now occurring in the online world. Legacy publishers have been dealing with this issue in a relatively successful manner for generations. Technology aside, the discussion basics are very much the same. Measuring direct response via clicks is pretty straightforward. Brand marketing, however, is murkier, and online display is taking it on the chin as a result. The Interactive Advertising Bureau and Online Publishers Association are doing everything within their respective powers to ward-off naysayers. …