The Point Is to Sell Something

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I am not blaming the Interactive Advertising Bureau for issuing its new guidelines last month.


They had to do, finally, what they had to do -- that is, establish definitions, or standards, for various stages in the banner ad selling/buying/experiencing process.


If you missed IAB's big announcement, here's the gist: Everyone now agrees on the definitions of five metrics of banner advertising: ad impressions, clicks, total visits, unique visits and page impressions. This will let advertisers buy "reach" and "frequency" with more confidence.


But what burns me up are the assumptions underlying the IAB action. The reason it was forced to pull these standards together is that advertisers complained they could not measure what they were getting for their money on the Web.


Excuse me!


Was the Internet not supposed to be the most measurable medium ever?


Where the movement of every eyeball can be tracked?


Where we enjoy full interactivity, a real dialogue and a chance to develop ongoing communications?


But measurable results -- click-through rates and the attendant conversions to sales -- have, of course, declined from their original highs. Everyone figured that those early 40 percent click-through rates were unsustainable as the Internet matured as a medium. But few of us expected them to fall to 0.3 percent, which is where they hover today. So the click-throughs are painfully low. And advertisers are feeling they are not getting their money's worth.


So how do publishers and ad salespeople react?


They back up and change the rules of the game. Hey, the best defense is a good offense, right? They pull the very same cop-out that general marketers pulled years ago -- when they divorced advertising from sales.


Do you remember the days when ad agencies were accountable for sales?


Here's how things worked: When you wanted sales growth, you invested in advertising. When your sales declined, you fired your agency.


So, what happened to that?


Somewhere along the line -- maybe in the '70s or so -- agencies convinced the world that their real responsibility was for a thing called branding, meaning awareness and attitude toward a brand, a product or a company. Measured by post-research into "unaided recall" and so forth. Which may or may not have a thing to do with sales. But that's OK. If your objectives end with awareness, then you cannot be held accountable for sales, right?


The point of advertising is, in fact, to sell something. And the point of Internet advertising is to get results.


I hear complaints that the Internet has decayed into a "direct marketing game."


Bravo.


Let's get back to the interactive, measurable medium that we originally envisioned for the Internet. Let's not cop-out again.


To succeed in measurable media, you should not run from response. You should embrace it. Pretty clear rules have been developed over decades of direct marketing for how to generate response. You target carefully, make strong offers, with a call to action. You do plenty of head-to-head testing, you refine, rinse and repeat. Then, you do more of what works and less of what does not.


And while you are at it, you get plenty of awareness and reach. Neat, huh?


So let's not retreat to reach and frequency. Let's not try to turn the medium into television. It is not television. It is the greatest direct response medium ever. Let's go get the most from it.


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