A Digital Advertising Future without Clicks?By Jason Konopinski

Once upon a time, marketers working on behalf of agencies or as part of an in-house team really had no idea if their ad buys were working.

Print and broadcast campaigns were notoriously difficult to measure.

At best, you could correlate the increased visibility with a corresponding uptick in sales, but more often that not, it came down to some fuzzy math, and a whole pile of confounding variables.

Variables such as:

  • Did the direct mail piece actually activate purchasing behavior at the moment of receiving or was it the cumulative effect of multiple touchpoints during the consideration cycle?
  • Did the beautifully designed, full page ad in a nationally distributed publication with a readership in the millions directly lead to an increase in inquiries or product sold?

These are the questions that continue to frustrate marketers and clients alike, but it doesn’t appear that traditional ad spends are slowing.

According to data released by Kantar Media and as reported in Ad Age, print advertising in consumer magazines increased 1.9 percent while the number of ad pages fell 2.1 percent.

Digital Advertising is Different

Digital advertising networks emerged to provide answers to the return-on-investment question that has stymied more traditional advertisers, allowing marketers to follow click-through data from ad impression to landing page to purchase. Sounds pretty simple, right?

Not so fast.

As it turns out, the digital advertising model based on clicks suffers from the same problems it hoped to solve. While marketers have access to more data about how potential buyers are responding to their online ads, attribution is still tricky.

If I see an ad on Facebook, don’t click, but make a purchase tomorrow — did the ad work?

By the numbers, click-through rates on Facebook ads continue to climb, but linking offline sales to online ads isn’t always the easiest thing to do.

The New Offline Sales Measurement Tool from Facebook

As I was researching this piece, I stumbled across an announcement from Facebook that got me thinking about the future of the online advertising model as we know it.

Their Custom Audiences features allows advertisers to locate offline audiences on Facebook using a list of email addresses or telephone numbers, but it’s only been available to a select group of advertisers working with Facebook’s managed sales team.

How it Works

Let’s say you own a small brick-and-mortar boutique and have built a database of email addresses, perhaps as newsletter signups or loyalty program participants.

If you’re using a CRM such as Salesforce or Nimble, you can export this list, upload it to the Custom Audiences tool, and create an ad specifically targeting this subset of customers.

Marketers and businesses will submit hashed data, including encrypted transaction data, directly to Facebook, and Facebook will in turn match that hashed data against their own user database, comparing sales from those who were shown the ad against a control group.

From the Facebook blog:

Say Town Sporting Goods, a fictional national retailer, kicked off an advertising campaign on Facebook to promote its new line of ski gloves to existing customers. Town Sporting Goods has always wanted to measure in-store sales lift from Facebook ads, but needing to work with a third-party has prevented them from doing so previously. Now, the company can work with its Facebook representative to understand the connection between Facebook ads and in-store sales of the new gloves.

Mobile: The End of the Click?

One potential outcome of this new focus on impressions is the end of the click as a success metric, especially as more and more users are accessing Facebook via mobile.

Consider the mobile screen. Clicking on a sponsored post in the mobile experience is cumbersome and disruptive, so clicks through mobile are typically low. However, simply because an ad goes un-clicked doesn’t mean it didn’t trigger future purchasing behavior. Measuring the ROI of impressions in addition to clicks gives advertisers a more holistic view of their digital advertising efforts.

It’s too early to declare the click dead, but perhaps its days are numbered.