How heavy are your cookies?
You're driving and pass a billboard for that new phone. You probably should be concentrating on driving, but there it is: a beautiful woman and that phone. You don't even notice that you nearly drove the car next to you into the guard rail. It's OK, they didn't notice either, because they were talking to someone on that phone. You park your car, and there she is again on that bus shelter with that phone. You get your mail and walk inside. Junk mail, bill, bill, junk mail, junk mail… hmmm… that phone. Pause. More junk mail, a letter from the IRS. Long pause. More junk mail. Trash. You're left with four pieces of mail, one of which you are not opening. You go online to pay your bills, and bam, there's a banner ad with that phone. Click.
What caused that conversion? Everything. You know that. So why don't you view your online marketing efforts the same way?
You have eight different online campaigns running in addition to your SEM -- a rich media banner, an interstitial, a video running on Google's display network, a homepage takeover, an email campaign and four different flash banners.
Your consumer is reading their news online. He sees a banner. He gets a cookie. He goes to another site to check out baseball scores. He sees a rich media banner -- cookie. He sees another banner -- another cookie. He goes to his favorite site. Homepage takeover -- cookie. He gets a link from a friend and checks it out. He sees another banner -- another cookie. He finally types in your URL. Bingo! Site visit!
So, what caused that conversion? Again, you know that it's the mass, and again, why is almost every online marketer looking at their online creative in isolation? It's the cookies. Every cookie replaces every other cookie before it. The only cookie you see when someone lands at your site is from that banner execution you hate, so you sit in weekly meeting after weekly meeting with your agency going over the same mind-numbing creative performance matrix. And then? You report it up. The last cookie wins. Ugh.
In this "last cookie wins" environment, we all lose. As long as it exists, partially savvy marketers who optimize their campaigns based on cookie metrics will naturally gravitate to those elements that have the most impression weight against them, like that hateful banner. Smaller campaigns can get drowned out by larger ones. High volumes of impressions in one place can steal all the cookies from your smaller "test" campaigns, leaving them with paltry performance.
Shouldn't a cookie for your homepage-takeover carry more significant weight than your lowly skyscraper? Shouldn't video do the same? You know that the little online button has less influence than the homepage takeover, but if they both drop a cookie, they are viewed by your tracking system as the same -- they have the same "weight." Moreover, the weight of the cookie combined with the number of impressions against it acts like myriad cookie thieves. It is why when you run your homepage takeover or very immersive rich media creative, the performance of your lowly banners seems to improve. It's not the creative or the placement that are improving; it's just that they are stealing the good will of other online advertising.
Author notes: Sean X Cummings is director of marketing for Ask.com. Read full bio.