Mobile Display and the 'Tyranny of the Click'

There are now quite a few studies that confirm what many people have known for a long time: the click is back metric with which to asses the effectiveness of (mobile) display advertising. While it may be a good metric for search, because of the behavior of search engine users, it does not capture the influence of display advertising on consumers. In addition, myriad studies from comScore, iProspect, Yahoo!, Microsoft and elsewhere show also that display + search campaigns perform better than search or display in isolation.


At Nielsen, we’ve done extensive work, particularly in the consumer packaged goods and retail industries, to help advertisers quantify the effect that online display advertising has on offline purchases. The results are quite positive. Looking at more than 300 campaigns over a span of about 5 years, using the basic formula below, we find the average ROI is a positive 157 percent . . .

Beyond the obvious finding that advertisers should not be overly focused on click through rates, the big idea here is that advertisers should be including online display advertising in their overall marketing mix, increasingly taking advantage of flash/video ad units to reach the consumer, without the hope that the person exposed to the ad will be one of the few that actually click on ads.


The original research, conducted using July 2007 comScore data, showed that 32 percent of Internet users clicked on at least one display ad during the month. These clickers were segmented into Heavy, Moderate and Light Clicking segments based on the group of users accounting for the top 50 percent of clicks (heavy), middle 30 percent (moderate), and bottom 20 percent (light). In 2007, comScore, Starcom and Tacoda found that heavy clickers represented 6 percent of U.S. Internet users, moderate clickers accounted for 10 percent and light clickers accounted for 16 percent. By March 2009, those numbers had dropped substantially in each case, to 4 percent of Internet users for heavy clickers, 4 percent for moderate clickers and 8 percent for light clickers.

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The results underscore the notion that, for most display ad campaigns, the click-through is not the most appropriate metric for evaluating campaign performance. Rather, advertisers should consider evaluating campaigns based on their view-through impact. comScore has conducted more than 200 client studies demonstrating that online display ads generate significant lift in brand site visitation, trademark search, and both online and offline sales among those Internet users who were exposed to the online ad campaigns – whether they clicked on the ad or not. These results, compiled in comScore’s influential “Whither the Click?” white paper, were reported in the June 2009 issue of the Journal of Advertising Research.

Online Publishers Association:

[T]he study “assessed 80 of the biggest branding campaigns across 200 of the most trafficked sites over a month’s time analyzing consumer behaviors of those Internet users who were exposed to display advertising . . . and measured three consumer actions: 1) searches conducted related to the advertisers’ brands; 2) site visitation, the traffic driven to the advertisers’ site and 3) consumer spending, the e-commerce transactions related to the advertisers’ brands.” The top-level findings were as follows:
--One in five conduct related searches and one in three visit the brands’ sites
--Users spent over 50% more time than the average visitor to these sites and consumed more pages
--Users spent about 10% more money online overall, and significantly more on product categories related to the advertised brands
--Higher income audiences visited the advertisers sites

Display also lifts online and offline sales. Indeed the "evidence" is overwhelming that display advertising's impact and effectiveness cannot be measured by the CTR. But mobile is in danger of succumbing to the click as ad networks seek to lure agencies and brands to their offerings and to minimize "risk." There's also the general culture of online advertising transferring into mobile and the default reliance on CTR as the universal measure of value. It's already happening.

To prevent this from settling in and from devaluing mobile display advertising, publishers, ad networks and others need to be vigilant and make a conscious effort to prevent the encroachment of the click. Beyond the problem with CTR as a measure of value, mobile is its own animal and should have a set of metrics that take into account the unique characteristics of the medium.