Web Ads Are the New Bricks in the Mailbag

I’ve long viewed display ads with a heavy degree of skepticism. Am I so biased by print’s tangibility that my disdain for online advertising clouds my judgment? I’m not sure, but knowing that I’ve rarely received any feedback on the digital ads our company has run has always made me wonder what’s really going on.

And that’s the black hole of online ads, isn’t it? You write a check and tally up the impression count to awareness building within the right target markets. But are those numbers real?

My skepticism was validated recently by an article by Suzanne Vranica in The Wall Street Journal entitled, “The Case of the Invisible Web Ads.” The title got me excited, too!

Vranica reports that “54 percent of online display ads shown in ‘thousands’ of campaigns measured by comScore Inc. between May of 2012 and February of this year weren’t seen by anyone.” To qualify as an impression, at least 50 percent of an ad had to be visible for at least one second. Three factors may be contributing to this “invisibility,” and all three have real-world, offline precedents. They are 1) technical glitches, 2) user habits, and 3) fraud.

In our world of direct mail, a technical glitch might be a pressman who pulls a piece out of the delivery as a QC check without scanning it so it can be replaced later. But in that case, the mail owner doesn’t pay for the postage or the print. Given the ephemeral nature of online, and the poor verification methods supporting the industry, marketers don’t have the recourse or even the awareness of the actuality of the delivery to expect recompense. User habits—in the direct mail world—might be the recipient who doesn’t like direct mail and simply recycles the contents of their mail box without even a glimpse of what’s inside. In this instance, online and offline both suffer, but that’s life: wrong channel, part of the game, move on.

A third-generation printer, Dustin LeFebvre delivers his vision for Specialty Print Communications as EVP, Marketing through strategy, planning and new product development. With a rich background ranging from sales and marketing to operations, quality control and procurement, Dustin takes a wide-angle approach to SPC

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  • Steve

    Add a fourth item for me – I use the AdBlock Plus extension on my browsers. As a result, I never see the web ads in the first place.

  • John

    Correct me if I’m wrong, but I think a lot of display advertising is actually paid on a CPC basis. In that situation, you’re not paying for the false impressions – they just drive down your clickthrough rate.

    Over time, the CPM of a display ad should equalize to the same ad on a CPC basis; if that isn’t the case, the marketer knows exactly where when and how.

    Fraud/etc certainly happen; but I’m not sure you can argue that there’s less fraud in the print advertising real, or that there are more tools to combat the problem in print advertising either. It doesn’t seem like a competitive advantage, much less a sustainable one – given the ease of measurement in the online realm, advertising exchanges can add any features desired.