October 22, 2009
The recent Comscore and Starcom USA "Natural Born Clickers" follow-up study indicates that there's been a 50 percent drop in the number of U.S. internet users who click on display ads since the same study conducted in 2007. So, people aren't clicking on display ads ... is this supposed to be new news?
How many people take a photo of a billboard while driving as a reminder about the message in the ad? How many people rip out magazine ads so that they remember to buy the product in the ad? How many people record television for the purpose of re-watching ads at a later time?
Let's look at history and think about how a magazine or billboard or even a television ad is recalled by a consumer. In all of history, ad recognition studies have not focused on the "click." but the "brain" and its ability to retain and recall things via your memory.
Now, of course, the online standard of trackability-equals-accountability immediately painted digital into the direct response corner, even though we've seen endless studies and continuous evidence that digital display ads are hardly glazed over and forgotten. They deliver real impact on brand metrics as good or better in some cases than traditional media. And as an additional benefit the ads are trackable whether someone decides to click or not, thanks to tools like view-through tracking and engagement mapping. These tools are easily more effective and more accurate than your run-of-the-mill post-campaign phone survey.
Think about the typical path of an online consumer in search of content. Let's use someone in Omaha, Neb. searching for the latest weather forecast:
If they don't have a weather site bookmarked they'll probably use their home page (typically Google, Yahoo or Bing or an ISP with an affiliation to one of those engines) and search for "Omaha Weather" to get the latest. They'll click on a search result and navigate to a weather website or in this case, maybe the local Omaha newspaper website's weather page. They may view 2 or 3 pages of content, looking at forecasts for the coming days, etc. In the process they'll have seen probably 8-10 display ads, and maybe a few anchor links or buttons. Would they want to leave the weather content the moment they arrive on the page and click on a banner for Scotts lawn care product? No, the task for which they arrived at the site was to observe the weather forecast, plain and simple.
But just like any other medium, the Scotts ad is tucked back in the memory bank of the consumer if they are in-market for such products. And what the internet is able to do better than any other traditional media is organize and recall your thoughts for you through a search engine. It's easy, the consumer simply goes to the search engine days or weeks later and types in "Scotts lawn care" and the first sponsored and natural listing is for the Scotts.com website. Not a direct response, but mission accomplished nonetheless.
No one is a 'natural born clicker.' We're all humans, who use our brains to absorb and then recall things that appeal to us, when it's convenient for us.