Ending the Impression Addiction

For all the sophisticated talk of cookies, targeting and reach, display advertising is lucky if it gets a one percent click-through rate.  It’s time to end our $100 billion-a-year addiction to impression-based ads, stage a Dr. Drew-style intervention and check ourselves into Impression Rehab.
Step One: Recognize and accept that we have a problem.  
Like all addictions, the codependency of brand managers and ad agencies on impressions started innocently enough. Television was a new and exciting medium when watchmaker Bulova ran the first TV commercial in 1941 and audiences loved it.  Catchy commercials were the life of the party and a cornerstone of popular culture.  As an industry, we honed our storytelling ability and captivated households with increasingly better jingles, higher production values and more impressive special effects.
But what started as nine minutes per hour of fun in the 1960’s, greedily grew to 18 minutes as the years progressed. And now, audiences have rebelled. Between remote control channel flipping and DVRs, today’s average TV viewer typically only sees five to seven seconds of a commercial — hardly a euphoria-inducing high. And display ads, delivered to billions, hardly compel consumers to lift a purchase-intending finger.
Yet, addicted to TV-style impressions, we ignore the new reality and continue to spend most of our budgets on a model that stopped serving our clients’ needs more than a decade ago.
Now that we are aware of our problem, what is an Impression Addict to do?
Step Two: Remember what we loved about advertising before things got out of control.
Advertising used to reward viewers for their time by providing them something they enjoyed – an entertaining experience. All of our favorite TV shows were brought to us by sponsors that valued our time, our intelligence and our ability to make sound decisions. Great storytelling not only moved a consumer emotionally, but also moved them down the sales funnel and delivered real value to brands.
We need to create brand experiences that mimic what was as great about that original TV commercial high—proving that we still value consumers’ attention.
Step Three: Consider an alternative.
It’s time we look to more fruitful means to reach an audience – and social engagement advertising delivers the goods.  Social media, where hundreds of millions of conversations take place every day, is a gift to advertisers that we’re just beginning to tap into for the elusive blend of branding and engaged customers. With consumers in complete control of their experiences, advertisers need be invited into these conversations and, once again, reward consumers for their time and loyalty.
How do you reward a consumer for paying attention in an opt-in world?  It’s easy: by recognizing that everyone is motivated by different things at different times, and providing what they value within the social environment. For some, the reward is virtual goods for a game they are playing, for others it is premium content or a donation to their favorite charity.  But for all, it is a tangible reward for their time. Whatever the reward is, I can guarantee you it will hold consumers’ attention for far longer than a TV ad or an online banner.
Step Four: Measure success, one day-at-a-time.
Clearly, the new approach for reaching consumers demands new ways to measure success. So the last step of Impression Rehab is to get the impression monkey off your back, and learn what really counts in social and get the most out of your ad buy. Here’s a couple fresh metrics that should be considered in the new landscape:
  • Time spent: the amount of time a consumer engages with an advertiser’s message. Banner ads go by in the blink of an eye; engagement ad gets viewers to spend unheard-of amounts of time interacting with the brand.
  • Depth of engagement: how much interactivity is built into the ad.  As a general rule, the greater the interactivity, the greater the completion rate. Consumers learn some of what they see and hear, but absorb that which they do.
  • Virality: how many consumers share the interactive experience with friends in their social networks. As a general rule in social, if at least 10 percent of your viewers don’t share your engagement, you’re missing the mark (and missing out on a fortune’s worth of earned media).
By any measure, social engagement advertising wildly outperforms traditional advertising. Rest assured, despite shrinking ad budget, follow these steps for greater ad ROI and recovery from impression addiction is at hand.
Jay Samit is CEO of SocialVibe, a digital advertising company.

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