The search nightmare before Christmas

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The search nightmare before Christmas
The search nightmare before Christmas

 Here's a true story — the names have been changed to protect the guilty. A major retailer hires the World's Greatest Ad Agency as its agency of record to handle its all-important Holiday campaign (after dumping the World's Second Greatest Ad Agency).


The newly chosen ad agency is given a ton of stuff to do, including creating television ads, radio ads, magazine ads, preprint, direct mail and last but not least, digital media, busying the Madison Avenue elves for months. The resulting ad creative is among the most brilliant, emotion-pulling advertising ever seen, and when it starts running, in early November, just about everyone seeing it sobs joyously, because the meaning of Christmas will be miraculously restored to them once they visit the retailer's store and drop a few hundred dollars there. The creative elves have clearly done their job!


The agency's digital elves also have done their job, by building a charming, Flash-enabled, thoroughly immersive microsite, with a message tied specifically to its offline campaign. The site allows a full measure of engagement, allowing users to watch the sob-inducing TV commercial and create interactive wish lists, Santa registries, personalized gift tags, viral "forward this" buttons — in short, the works. To ensure healthy traffic levels, the microsite's URL is embedded in all of the offline creative. Now everyone can simply kick back their heels and wait for the deluge of traffic to arrive. It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas!


The problem is that the traffic doesn't arrive, because only a handful of those millions of people seeing the multimillion dollar TV commercials bother to write down the microsite's URL. The rest go to search engines, but in our Xmas-ad cluttered world, the only thing they remember is the retailer's name, so they type it in.


These searchers do see the retailer's main site on the search engine results page (SERP), because the agency has bought its own brand terms, but not the micro-site. Of course, while on the SERP they're treated to ads from the retailer's competitors and a sizeable percentage of them hop over to them. How about the ad's unforgettable tagline? Did the agency buy this tagline (which doesn't have any competitive ads running against it)? Nope. The result is that whatever offline-online synergies were supposed to happen don't, and never will.


This kind of disconnect happens again and again, despite all the talk we hear from agencies about “holistic marketing” and “multichannel integration.” What could be more basic than buying a client's campaign tagline for them?


Frankly, failures like this don't happen because the ad agency's people are stupid, don't get integrated marketing, or don't have a digital division. The problem seems to be that because search spend reflects such a small proportion of overall media spend, agencies — especially the big, creative award-winning ones — don't view it seriously enough to invest heavily, even though failure at search can be fatal in an integrated marketing world.


Marketers, take heed: just because your agency has a digital division, that doesn't mean that the search component of digital — the most important post-offline exposure component in digital marketing — will get the same care that your other campaign components receive. Search is the glue that holds all of these much larger pieces together. Without it, much of your offline ad budget will have been completely wasted.



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