Why we're calling out an industry full of clickheads

The IAB is declaring today the first National Anti-Click-Through Rate Day. Let's face it: we've become an industry of clickheads.

Jon Mew, CEO

In the 25 years since the first banner ad, digital advertising has got itself hooked on click-through rates. They made more sense back in 1994, when our measurement capabilities were much less sophisticated and click-through made a decent proxy for actual success.

Also, it probably helped that the first-ever banner ad had a CTR of 44%. Of course it did – back then, there wasn’t anything else to do on the internet and clicking through rewarded you with an ad narrated by Tom Selleck.

Today, though, things have changed. The average CTR on Google’s Display Network is 0.35% and not even the reassuringly silky voice of Selleck is enough to guarantee people will click on your ad. As an industry, we’ve outgrown click-through – it’d be like turning up to an awards night and demanding they serve you a two-litre bottle of white cider or a watermelon-flavoured alcopop – but the habit has stuck.

That’s why we’re declaring Tuesday 12 February the first National Anti-Click-Through Rate Day.

And, yes, we are aware that it’s already National Plum Pudding Day. Hopefully, you can make room for both in your calendar.

It’s time to break the habit. CTR became an industry standard by helping justify marketing spend to clueless executives, but digital is way past that now. At best, it’s a short-term metric that fails to tell the full story. At worst, it’s a vanity metric.

If you’re only looking at CTR, ads can often “perform” better in the places you wouldn’t really want your brand to appear: poor-quality content where there’s nothing else to click on or poorly designed pages where it’s easier to accidentally click on an ad.

Honestly, you might be better off with that plum pudding.

So, if you do take our advice, what’s next in this bright, new, clickthrough-free world? The important thing is thinking about what your long-term goals are and how to measure them. Don’t just rely on the most easily accessible options – that’s how we ended up with CTR in the first place.

Brand studies are a great way of measuring how your ads have impacted awareness, familiarity, favourability, consideration and intent. They’re most effective when used longitudinally to provide quantitative evidence for the impact of longer-term brand activities.

If you want a clearer idea of the cause-and-effect relationship between ad activity and sales, econometrics – and specifically marketing mix modelling – can be extremely useful. They’re a much better way of measuring cross-channel campaigns and accounting for the part digital plays in the bigger picture.

But whatever metrics you choose, just remember: don’t be a clickhead. The digital ad industry already has more than enough of those.

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