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WTF? IAB Says Performance is a Bad Thing for Online Ads

Eggface

I was really interested this morning when I saw that the IAB is making an effort to combat "creative shabbiness" in display. Unfortunately it was not what I expected to read. As someone who has spent a decade building and optimizing creative for the web and has worked with six of the top eleven brands in the world I’m stunned.

Instead of being an effort to promote more holistic ad>landing page creative or institute new IAB approved ad sizes or push for new metrics that better define creative performance or issue some guidelines for creative testing and optimization (I could go on), this is a PR campaign to get brand (read TV) dollars. In fact, the idea here is to move away from the notion of performance in display and decry the very advertisers that have been successful on the web.

From today’s article in MediaPost (this crazy meme was first published in Ad Age yesterday):

Rothenberg said the push… was an effort to overcome perceptions of "creative shabbiness" in online media, and to help prevent the slide toward a "performance-based" Internet advertising economy.

Whoa… a performance based advertising economy is a slide! This from the man who heads up the Interactive Advertising Bureau.

Step back for a second. According to this logic, ads that get the interest of people (clicks & conversions) are not creative. How does that make sense? Perhaps, the idea of what creative is needs to be redefined (or we need to re-read what David Ogilvy thought about creative).

No one has better captured or understood the web ad economy than the father of web based performance advertising, Bill Gross.

“The more I [thought about it], the more I realized that the true 
value of the Internet was in its accountability. Performance guarantees had to be the model for paying for media.”

Let me shout this into the halls of the IAB on East 26th Street. The value of the media is in its accountability! This is the most accurate metrics/analytics driven medium that exists and it’s getting better at collecting data and more intelligent about what to do with that data everyday. Smart marketers and advertisers understand how to use that data and optimize their advertising. This is what the digital game is about.

Let me get something else off my chest while we’re on the subject of creative. Almost all the issues plaguing display advertising rest in the creative end. It starts with the ad sizes and locations. The problems continue with not understanding web user behavior and experience. They fester with the cost of serving rich media. Let’s touch on this for a bit because it is an important and unspoken aspect of the issues Mr. Rothenberg alludes to.

There is a huge cost consideration if you want to serve these really “creative” ads. Flash has opened up a world of possibility but at the moment the serving fees are outrageous, let alone the costs that most agencies charge for this type of work. Coming full circle most of the agencies that do this type of work haven’t a clue how to optimize Flash ads to get people interested in them. Testing these ads is non starter and fewer still understand how to optimize the media buy for performance. Oops, I said a bad advertising word, “performance.”

The problem will only be solved by continuing to move away from a banner economy and redefine what advertising is on the web. We need to stop putting up billboards and start paving roads. We need to stop taking ad strategies from other channels and throwing them on the web. That is the real "spray and pray."

I get that Mr. Rothenberg and the IAB have the backs of publishers here and they have every reason to be worried about the display economy (albeit a day late and a dollar short) but we are NEVER going back to the hey-days of high CPM so these ideas about creative and performance are ill thought-out and pure laziness. A much better tact would be to work on blurring the very notions of what is brand and what is direct for online.

Bottom line: if you are worried about the value of display then find better ways to create that value and better ways to measure it, based on performance.

Related Posts:

Brand Marketing in the Digital Age

The Power of Brand to Influence Outcomes or Why Brands Will Always Rule Digital

The Next Generation of Digital Marketing Agencies

Platforms, Applications and the Future of Digital Marketing

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Comments

More accountability and more optimization, please. Not less!

Maybe some are afraid of losing advertising dollars during recession? Must be it.

Hard to understand what is going on here - I'm assuming Randall Rothenberg is lamenting the decline of big, indiscriminate spends on "brand awareness" campaigns.

I spent most of my summer vacation playing with flash mashups. I created xml feeds from ecommerce category pages and passed that data into flash units. I'm passing the search engine query term to the flash unit for real-time query reinforcement and I'm currently working on rules lists to deal with a wide range of referrer keywords.

I looked briefly at using these units on adserving platforms, or properties that sell banner space. The options are pretty limited - in fact I'm yet to find a service that will let me do all this. Easy to do on your own website but if your are a marketer looking to spend then the current situation looks grim.

What this says to me is that the industry is yet to be convinced that there is a measurable (there's that word again) positive lift associated with using these types of display units. And that the industry hasn't thought hard enough about search engines driving traffic to display properties (or the value of query reinforcement and using the query to discern what the searcher is looking for). This is despite a handful of search marketers reporting positive results - RAMP, otto, easyconcepts.com, Autopia.org, etc.

Let's review the basic model:
searcher arrives on display property using a search phrase
search phrase is parsed, sent to a remote site, and a relevant xml feed is generated from a ruleset
flash unit is instantiated, containing query reinforcement text and the relevant xml feed as product/ service options

Where current ad networks fail:
Capacity to parse search phrase (depending on calling method)
Capacity to accept an xml feed into a cost-effective rich media unit

My (partial) solution was to generate a load of flash units that contained 'snapshots' of the xml feed. Consequently no need for remote generation of a feed AND a smaller flash footprint (~30k). Parsing the search phrase and selecting a relevant banner is still an issue for me. I'm looking at using/ modifying the OpenX adserver to choose the right banner.

I think you've already detailed a future where keyword bidding is enabled for display advertisers. I think that will eventually happen as marketers 'discover' relevant display mashups and the lift associated with their use.

I had to laugh when Randall Rothenberg said that "online has been painted with a "direct response" brush..." - where I come from that would be considered a compliment.

I understand the desire to move away from a pure CTR model as a basis of performance. However, there are other valid measurements now available that can measure the impact an ad has in terms of brand favorability or intent to purchase or other dimensions that are important to brand advertisers who spend the most, as a percentage of the total, in the digital market.

That said I *have* been able to generate substantial CTR lift in display creative through some very basic direct response principles. Any marketer worth his salt can do this if they put their mind to it along with a commitment to testing.

Yet, even then a better CTR might not lead to immediate ROI. (Man, this is acronym hell!) So, using something like Vizu Ad Catalyst to measure brand dimensions is where non-click performance of an ad can be measured ... and yes, it should be measured.

I totally agree with you on the need for accountability in any medium for advertising, be it display or advertising. I cannot imagine how can one spend money without knowing what returns will it bring. Even charities do a lot of ROI calculations.

That said, it should be understood that measuring returns from certain types of advertisements might be practically very difficult, if not impossible. For example, how will you measure impact of display advert on offline behavior of a customer? Further, measuring impact on long-term brand value would be difficult too.

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