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Why engagement trumps clicks


Measuring brand effectiveness with clicks reminds me of so many other well-known fallacies: Home prices will always continue to skyrocket, nuclear energy is relatively safe, and one can quit smoking in a day. Likewise, advertisers seem to keep convincing themselves that clicks are a good measure of online branding. Unfortunately, when brand advertisers only focus on this metric, they are actually stifling creativity and harming their own brand. The emphasis on clicks has created ads that serve more as street signs to direct users to their site, instead of encompassing an overall memorable experience.

Advertising agencies do what they are paid to do, and if you pay them to deliver clicks, that's what you are going to get. Why bother with creativity, witty copy, glaring images, and innovative formats, when you can get clicks by just placing cheap standard banners at high volume on long tail placements?

The problem this type of thinking is that while you may have achieved the stated campaign objective, your brand could suffer in the long run. Instead, what you should be aiming for is for users to freely engage with your brand while receiving a memorable and positive experience in return. This is why brand advertisers should define campaign goals as engagement, rather than clicks.

Where did this click come from?
The inventor of the click-through rate couldn't have possibly imagined that CTR would serve as the currency for online advertising. At face value, clicks appear to be a powerful concept. They are intuitive, require active participation from the user, and generate valuable traffic. But what is missing from this perfect picture is that the link between the click-through rate and branding effectiveness is not grounded in research. In fact, research shows that online display advertising is effective even at low click-through rates.

comScore maintains that the primary effect of online ads is the exposure itself and not necessarily the act of clicking on it. In "How Online Advertising Works: Whither The Click?" comScore demonstrates that two-thirds of internet users do not click on any display ads over the course of a month and that only 16 percent of internet users account for 80 percent of all clicks. Furthermore, clickers tend to be younger and less affluent than non-clickers. comScore confirmed that there is a latency effect and branding effect to online advertising, in which users arrive at the advertiser's website even without clicking.

However, the research by comScore also indicates that display advertising has an effect on user behavior even at low click-through rates. In the research, which included 139 display campaigns from seven verticals, comScore has shown substantial effects on traffic, sales and branding despite the lack of clicks. According to comScore, the display campaigns yielded a 46 percent lift in advertiser websites visits, over a four-week period. In addition, over a four-week period, exposed users are 38 percent more likely to conduct an advertiser related branded keyword search and are 27 percent more likely to make a purchase online. Furthermore, exposed users are 17 percent more likely to make a purchase at the advertiser's retail store.

Engagement demystified
What is engagement and how can we measure it? To measure the proportion of impressions that were engaged and the duration of engagement, MediaMind uses a metric called dwell. The metric measures the proportion of rich media impressions that were intentionally engaged with by touch, interaction, or click and the duration of the engagement. Unintentional dwell lasting less than one second is excluded.

This measure of engagement provides an estimate of the share of impressions that were seen by users with high likelihood. The users' natural tendency is to follow the mouse cursor movement with their eyes. Dwell measures the proportion of impressions that had a meaningful mouse-touch, lasting more than one second. While there have been users who have seen the ads and have not touched them with their mouse, dwell allows us to gauge the number of users that are very likely to see the ad.

Furthermore, research by MediaMind, Microsoft Advertising, and comScore shows that engagement does have an actual effect on brand metrics. The results of the joint study indicate that users who were exposed to campaigns with high dwell are three times more likely to search for brand related keywords as compared to users who were exposed to campaigns with low dwell. Moreover, campaigns with high engagement boosted advertisers' site traffic by 69 percent and improved brand engagement -- increasing page views and time spent on the brand's site.

How to increase engagement?
There are myriad rules and techniques that can help advertisers increase user engagement and dwell. Some of the more successful ones include embedding video into banners, creating in-banner games, using expandable banners to allow users to explore the brand, and delivering visually appealing ads both in terms of size and creativity. Thus, the rule of thumb is to create ads that deliver experience, and not just signs that send you somewhere else.

Here are three examples:

HBO's "True Blood" homepage takeover is a great example of how to hook users to your ad and keep them engaged to create a memorable experience. Homepage takeover is a very visible format that takes advantage of the full canvas to expose users to the brand message. Homepage takeovers achieve dwell rate of slightly more than 5 percent and 46 seconds of dwell duration.

The ad starts with a quick three-second video to get users to notice the ad. Then users are invited to choose the colors of the wallpaper ad that surrounds the content, making this a customizable ad that increases engagement. The sensual ad truly delivers the appeal of "True Blood."

This Nike ad takes engagement to a whole new level. It starts as a small 234x60 messenger ad. However, when users click on it, it becomes a truly full-screen experience of an app that allows users to explore the brand. It includes multiple screens, videos, and more. The visual implementation is simply eye candy. This ad is a revolutionary way to say bye-bye click-through rate, and hello engagement and phenomenal user experience.

H&M decided to put the term "direct response" advertising on its head, while letting users engage with its catalogue directly on the banner. Instead of grabbing a fraction of the users to go to the brand's actual site to view the entire catalogue, this ad took out the unnecessary step and allowed users to view and flip the collection on the banner itself.

These advertisers didn't settle for clicks. They wanted engagement. Imagine if TV ads featured a call to action like "click on channel 2983 for more..." It's highly unlikely that the viewers would leave their programming to click on the ad. So, why would online users behave any differently? Once you realize that the aim is to impress rather than making users press a button, there is no limit to creativity.

Ariel Geifman is principal research analyst at MediaMind.

On Twitter? Follow iMedia Connection at @iMediaTweet.

Ariel Geifman is the Director of Marketing at Mintigo, a customer targeting solutions provider.  In his role, Ariel provides advice and insights on performance outbound and inbound marketing, email marketing, lead nurturing and marketing...

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to leave comments.

Commenter: Wenhan Zhou

2011, September 07

Great article with great examples as well. We have done some online display advertising as well and I must say, banners do capture attention even if they don't directly have clicks. Having a prominent branding on the banner on CPM basis is a great way to get more for your $$$ BTW: Can't someone remove the spam post? - Wenhan, m-Rich Media ADVocate, Design & publish mobile apps, sites & ads within minutes! (http://mobdis.com)

Commenter: Earl Cole

2011, September 06

Nice article, Ariel. I couldn't agree with you more. Our media tech company actually measures CPE (cost per engagement) and CTR. Being that there are different levels of engagement, we have developed a new system that ranks the various points within video advertising... the next phase of hyper-brand marketing.

Commenter: Dieter Van Roekel

2011, September 06

This seems very sensible and sounds like a solid piece of analytics, a refreshing break from the iMedia norm. I hope to see more analyses in the future!

Commenter: Ariel Geifman

2011, September 06

We measured it by brand related keyword searches post viewing the campaign. We found that people that viewed campaigns with very high Dwell were 3 times more likely to search for the brand as compared to people who viewed an ad from a campaign with very low Dwell. -Ariel

Commenter: Dieter Van Roekel

2011, September 06

Hi Ariel, this makes sense to me also, it is fair to say that people's eyes follow the mouse, rather than the other way around. How did you measure the effectiveness of the high Dwell campaigns? Are we talking about the DR now?

Commenter: Ariel Geifman

2011, September 06

Hi Dieter, Dwell is not a silver bullet for measuring the branding effectiveness of banners. However, our research finds that it is avery good proxy. Our research that was done by comScore shows that Dwell differs from click by measuring the exposure to the ad (since people follow the mouse with their eyes). The result is that campaigns with high Dwell were more effective. Hope that helps. Ariel

Commenter: Dieter Van Roekel

2011, September 06

Ariel, this is a great post, I am completely agreeing that the click is a misrepresentation of a consumer's propensity to purchase as well as a weak indicator of the so called "brand effect". How do you feel though about the so called "dwell" for non interactive banners? How do you think it differs from the click given that it still involves the mouse movement? My hypothesis would be that the demographic of dwellers is similar to that of clickers in the oft quoted comscore report; people for whom the novelty of the banner is still great. Do you suggest that all banners become large rich media constructions?