Like many other things in this life, in the past I’ve been a bit of a snob when it comes to marketing.
Email? Please, just use it for CRM.
Newspapers? Good only when paired with a cup of coffee on Sunday morning.
Outdoor? You running a fireworks store?
But as I get older, I’m losing bad habits and – while I wouldn’t call it wisdom – I’ve stopped making many of the same mistakes over and over. This includes judging tactics based on their past bad behavior. And that includes online display.
When we work with clients on their campaigns, I require myself to look at everything, understand its place in the applied strategy, and apply the proper metrics for evaluation. In that regard, like most snobs, I’m usually put in my place fairly quickly when confronted with the prejudice of my position. Most media, whether I approve or not, can be effective if it’s used appropriately.
The one area where a little wisdom is kicking in is display. When I started in the industry, display had massive sales support. Basically because it was the only inventory a lot of sites had to sell. But the reality of display advertising was a low click through rate (.5% was a highlight! – In 1998), poor conversions for the clicks that did come through, and a rapid evolution into the column of annoying (as in “annoying sales people”, “annoying results”, “annoying limitations”). To make display more appealing to advertisers, the interstitial, pop over and pop under were developed, conversely annoying everyone and making pop up blockers ubiquitous in browser options.
Then, two interesting things happened – not at the same time. First, Yahoo produced a study it called “Closing the Loop” – basically proving display did have brand legs and did have a very positive impact on search, when used together. Now, as a member of the First Church of SEM, it took me a little while to come around. And by little while, I mean it took a few successful tests. While I didn’t disbelieve Yahoo’s study, I did know they had a whole lot of display inventory to unload. After a few tests, it became apparent that there was a huge impact to search – but only when it was used judiciously. It needed to be planned, it needed to be built around the most sophisticated targeting available, and the creative had to be compelling. The truth is that the targeting wasn’t that great.
Second, and solving that problem – display targeting has seen a seachange in capability. Sites like Facebook and Netmining have taken behavioral targeting to whole new levels. Amazing schemas exist now to slowly winnow down behavior into very specific profile targeting. Facebook is able to take your profile and extrapolate outward with pretty amazing results. People are response engines, and their subtle behaviors can not only be predicted – they can also be counted on to be consistent.
Ad units have evolved as well, migrating display into content with Facebook’s “Sponsored Story” ad unit. Retargeting allows you to persistently message to your visitors, and the networks that run retargeting are able to take that activity and apply it toward future behavioral models. Our current reality is that display is more effective for brand building than it has ever been – and is quickly getting to the point that it may be sold on a CPC or CPA basis for direct response campaigns. Now, display is considered a front line strategy – paired with search through retargeting; built independently for awareness at key times of year; or run year-round for brand building.
The truth is that display always had some measure of utility. However, it took much more significant analytics to build targeting schemas and attribution models to bring it to full effectiveness – and to bring that effectiveness to awareness.
At the end of the day, it’s not surprising that it’s projected that display will be driving a lot of the online ad growth. What is surprising is that an advertising channel that had been pretty much written off by everyone – agencies, advertisers and consumers alike – now has the potential to thrive like never before. In fact, you may say that I’ve become a fan.
I am, however, still a snob when it comes to bourbon.