“Hard data” from on-line ad testing? Hardly.

In Ad Creative on June 2, 2009 at 6:37 pm

To evaluate ads, don’t count on counting clicks.

An article in the June 2  New York Times explores the use of the Internet to compare ad approaches. By using different versions of ads, incorporating different offers,  and in some cases targeting different demographics, advertisers can use click results to quantify (at least theoretically) the effectiveness of   the ads, and adjust the campaign accordingly. The article details how a company called Varick Media Management used this technique on behalf of client Vespa.

It’s hard to criticize something that finally appears to provide an objective evaluation of what has traditionally been a subjective area. And yes, it might be somewhat predictable that a creative director-type like me would object. But the fact is, there are a few other things that need to be considered before ditching the creative brainstorming sessions in favor of Excel spreadsheet ad tracking parties.

  • Click-through does not equal sales. While controlling for all the variables can bring a logical conclusion as to the preference of one offer over another, or even one ad shape over another, care must be taken. A picture of Paris Hilton would probably increase the click-through on a financial services company Web site, but I doubt it would lead  to much more than that.
  • How much time/money/space is dedicated to the exploration? How many things do we test for? How many versions of each?  How do we ensure comparable audiences? How long do we give it before evaluating? Endless revision and monitoring can become its own end, and soak up time more profitably spent elsewhere. Info helps, of course. Too much info can easily paralyze.
  • Taken to a logical extreme, too much reliance on this process will diminish the value of experienced judgment, and inspire clients to simply test several different ad campaigns before choosing one to “go with.” (“We don’t care what the agency thinks; let’s find out what customers think.”) In addition to being vulnerable to misleading results, as mentioned above, this type of approach will have a damaging effect on branding. Those are real customers you’re talking to.
  • The fact that results are somewhat more easily “measured” than in other media could cause increasingly risk-averse clients to give on-line advertising a larger share of the media budget than is justified. This is somewhat akin to losing something in your basement, but looking for it in the living room because the light is better there.

Bottom line, if you’re already going to do a small Internet-only ad campaign, and want to use clicks to determine the most effective executions, fine. That’s “apples to apples.”  But using those clicks to make decisions that impact the campaign in other media  is a little scary.  And in my opinion, a little wrong.


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