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Test Idea for Display Ads

A recent iProspect Study demonstrated the inter-relationship between display ads and paid search. According to the study: 31% of users respond to display ads by clicking on the ad itself, but another 27% respond by doing a search for the retailer's brand name. 0ne-third of those who respond to display ads through either mechanism end up making a purchase from that retailer if they were already familiar the brand, whereas "only" 14% bought if they didn't know the company before seeing the display ad. Wow, those are amazing numbers! They don't jibe at all with the data we've seen. 33% click through rate for display ads? 33% conversion rate?!? What the heck? So, I started digging. Turns out this study was a survey of self-reported behavior from invited participants. Odd, doesn't iProspect have actual data to study? Measuring the incremental value of any marketing vehicle is challenging and display ads are doubly so. With search, you know the person searched for your products and visited your site through your ad. The connection is pretty clear. The connection between seeing, for example, a CDW display ad on CNET and then buying from their site is much more tenuous. Some fraction of those folks would buy from CDW anyway, and the fact that an ad was waved in front of them had no influence whatsoever on their behavior. Behavioral targeting exacerbates this problem. By showing ads to folks who've already been to your site, and giving credit to display impressions, the display ads get credit for all sales from frequent buyers, which is obviously absurd! I'd wager that the vast majority of those sales would happen without the display ads. We have an idea for a test that might actually get at the question of incremental value. {Ryan Gibson, our Director of Marketing, thinks this wasn't his idea, but can't remember where he heard it and can't find anyone in the blog-o-sphere writing about it. Someone deserves credit for this, maybe Ryan, maybe not.} A Test Idea for Evaluating the Incremental Lift of Display Ads* The question is: how much do the impressions by themselves influence behavior? Try running the following A/B test:
  • Version A is the advertiser's display ad.
  • Version B is an ad for the advertiser's favorite non-profit charity.
Track the post-interaction behavior of those folks who saw version A vs the folks who saw version B. Any improvement in subsequent behavior for version A could be reasonably credited to the display ad impression. However, the display impressions only get credited with the difference between the two versions, because it's awfully hard to claim that people were equally motivated to buy from Acme by an ad for the Red Cross. Would any advertiser willingly bankroll this test knowing that half of the money is effectively a charity donation? Maybe, maybe not. Perhaps Google would be willing to cover the costs of the charity ads to prove the value of Display? Perhaps a display ad agency would be willing to cover the costs to prove the value? Perhaps Forrester, ComScore, or Shop.org would sponsor the test as a service to advertisers? RKG hopes to find a willing partner or three to try this test. If it turns out that display ads are far more valuable than the click-through data suggests we will gladly start offering display ad management to our offerings. If not... *Note: this test is geared for online resellers more than manufacturers. Coke will never be able to measure the direct impact of an ad campaign. Clearly the impact of Sharp Aquos commercials won't be seen on their website. This test is more for the folks using display ads for direct marketing purposes.
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