As programmatic has proliferated there have been many conversations about new tools that expand the creative pallet. Despite these tools becoming widely available, we have seen a rash of lowest-common-denominator standard banner units that use programmatic technology to spread uninspired creative. Overzealous optimisation is driving brands into this trap, and to make matters worse, it forces them to use insufficient metrics, including click-throughs and conversions, that are designed for direct response ads.
For programmatic creative to reach its fullest potential, it needs to embrace the other part of the marketing equation; branding. This is especially important for campaigns utilising high impact rich media units. If the industry is to increase its use of these engaging units, then measurement needs to evolve so that advertisers and agencies can better understand what they are accomplishing with these cutting-edge creative campaigns.
Simple counting metrics like clicks and views are effective for measuring standard banners – which are often part of retargeting campaigns – but high-impact ads are less about driving conversion and more about the upper funnel. Some of these ads do in fact inspire clicks, but for the most part, high-impact formats are designed to engage users and keep them on a page without interrupting the reader’s experience. Rather than drive them to a sale or a brand’s website, these ad units are designed to deliver something akin to a snack-sized interaction – a brief encounter between consumer and brand that builds a mental connection of awareness and ad recall – all of which is incredibly important to branding metrics.
Up to now, marketers have measured whether their ads elicited this interaction by monitoring the movement of a consumer’s mouse over the ad unit. This metric, often referred to as the dwell rate, isn’t directly transferrable to a mobile environment where there is no mouse. While it doesn’t make sense to track roll-overs, mobile has not killed the concept of dwell time completely. The time that a consumer spends doing something above and beyond just looking at an ad is still important – this is the new version of dwell time engagement that’s so crucial to measure. Brands and agencies need to start thinking about how they measure this time spent, or earned time, as opposed to paid time (a view) or exposure time (an ad is served).
If the industry wants to oversimplify things, it can say that engagement has the same importance for branding that click-through has to direct response. But how a brand or agency measures engagement is ultimately up to them, and each campaign may have different modes of measurement, depending on what kinds of creative capabilities are incorporated into the ad unit. If there is a video element, the campaign can track how much time the user spends watching the video, but can also delve deeper into other user actions. Did they expand the ad unit for example? If so, then how long did they engage with the increased real-estate before closing the ad? Did the user initiate any other custom interactions, such as a colour selection or 360-degree view, as we often see in auto ads?
The average time users spend performing any of these actions provides a measure of how well the campaign performed. Interaction rates, total impressions with interactions, and expansion durations are also all valuable measures of engagement. And again, brands can go deeper, tinkering with the different elements within these larger engaging ad units to get a better measure of what user clicks. The deep understanding of how consumers interacted with all of an ad’s functionality is more valuable to understanding the consumer than a simple tally of interactions. It brings brands one-step further to an earned time metric that accurately measures campaign’s success.
Metrics like this only get more important as it gets harder to reach consumers. In-stream video advertising presents an ad message to a captive audience but is quickly becoming a more expensive, more competitive market. Brands may find that it’s much more affordable to serve video ads through expandable rich media units, in which case, standard banner ad metrics will serve almost no purpose.
In the end, brands deploying high-impact rich media creative need to work backwards, thinking about their end campaign goals, and then determining which metrics will help measure their success. Brands are eager to let creative agencies stretch their imagination using rich media ad units, and the brands still want to leverage programmatic delivery. But for those campaigns to be considered a success – and therefore, worthy of future investment – brands need to rediscover the metrics that match these new creative capabilities.