The Click-Through That May Be Hurting Your Brand

What If the Click Isn't Just Irrelevant, but Also a Negative Indicator for Success?

By Published on .

Eric Porres
Eric Porres
We all know the way our industry seized on click-through rates because it's so easy to measure. And we've long heard the arguments that a high CTR doesn't matter. What if that's not quite right, though? What if a high CTR matters -- but inversely? What if a high CTR is actually a negative indicator for your brand?

Quite often, it is, according to a recent study conducted by Lotame. Not only do click-through rates fail to measure what marketers are really looking for, they're often negatively related to brand lift.

Looking to get beyond the ubiquitous click-through statistics included in most campaign reports, Lotame developed a process for measuring online brand impact, based on the metrics of purchase intent, viewing intent (for tune-in and theatrical brands), brand awareness, ad recall, brand favorability, interaction rates, CTR, andInView Time Spent. Using in-banner survey technology from KN Dimestore and Vizu, Lotame carefully works out "exposed" (those who have seen an ad) and "control" (those who haven't) groups from within each campaign's targeted audience. Using the information provided by both the control and exposed groups' in-banner survey responses, it becomes possible to ascertain the relative effect of online ad exposure on a variety of important metrics.

Lotame executed more than 100 campaigns that included in-banner surveys between 2008 and 2010 -- an overall sample size of more than 80,000 control/exposed survey responses and 650 million total ad impressions. Having broken down the data in search of relationships between click-through rates and other brand metrics, we were able to come to some quite interesting conclusions.

While click-through rates showed a strong positive correlation with interaction rates and brand favorability, only a minor positive correlation could be demonstrated between CTR and purchase intent. More immediately obvious was the negative correlation between CTR and certain important brand metrics. In particular, we noted negative correlations with a consumer's intent to view (for TV shows or movie campaigns), ad exposure time, ad recall and awareness. Put another way, we were able to conclude that online consumers given to clicking on ads are actually less likely to either spend significant time viewing advertisements or to recall them later. And, perhaps more importantly, that optimizing an online campaign to solely focus on CTR is quite likely to have a negative impact on other valuable brand measures.

The real risk we see here is less the negative correlations with CTR themselves, but rather what can happen when campaigns become overly focused on driving clicks. As it's been said before, the point of any advertising is not to drive clicks -- it's to build a brand, boost sales or add revenue streams. As our research at Lotame demonstrates, when campaigns are optimized solely around CTR, and to the exclusion of other legitimate brand metrics, these basic marketing goals can inadvertently come under real threat. Online marketers cannot conflate awareness goals with CTR measures.

Online marketers are going to want to make sure that they track their campaigns in a way that measures their true underlying goals. There's quite a lot of data out there, and unless campaign objectives and positively correlated metrics are chosen ahead of a campaign, it's quite simple to end up with statistics that at best prove inadequate and at worst deceptive in terms of judging a campaign's true effectiveness. And this has a major effect on campaign performance as well: a solid understanding of the interactions between various brand metrics means that messaging and targeting optimization can be aimed at the results marketers look for.

Eric Porres, the CMO of Lotame, a marketing technology company powered by the segmentation of audience data. Eric previously was a founding partner of Underscore Marketing, an independent, full-service digital media agency launched in 2002.
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