Is That A Fact? 5 Principles For Proving That Digital Advertising Works

Peter Minnium | Marketing Land | November 6, 2015

“Come on, Peter,” chided the CMO, “you can’t expect me to commit millions of dollars in media spending based on that evidence.”

The first 50 minutes of the one-hour meeting at this major brand marketer had gone spectacularly well. I was still at the IAB and had come to present the latest and greatest in digital advertising experiences, from new display forms to digital video and native.

Once again, however, I hit a wall at the last part of the pitch: “why it works.”

This was becoming an all-too-common experience. As noted in this space previously, we are witnessing the beginning of a renaissance in digital advertising, powered by advances in native, in-feed digital video, mobile and programmatic creative.

Next-generation ads are moving into the reader’s natural activity stream, are using sight, sound and motion plus interaction, are reflective of the page content, and are offering the user the ability to interact with the ad content in the same manner as content on the other parts of the page.

When I presented these new forms to marketers, they never failed to lean forward in their chairs, excited by the possibilities to transfix consumers and transform their brands with truly groundbreaking ad experiences.

Many commented, “It’s about time,” as they had been waiting for the digital medium to deliver on its promise of truly revolutionary advertising since the first digital ads appeared in the mid-1990s.

Unfortunately, they never failed to lean back in their chairs and cross their arms when the subject of measurement arose. I found this extremely frustrating, as I knew in my heart of hearts that these new digital forms were effective.

It not only made intuitive sense, but it seemed that almost daily, an avalanche of data was delivered to the ecosystem that provided further support that people “engage” with ads, for example, with more time with ad content in view and with more interactions, shares and likes.

Why, then, was I consistently encountering the leaned-back-crossed-armed skepticism from brand marketers? What was I missing?

In a word: Facts.


Brand marketers have a long history of researching the effectiveness of their advertising creative — both before and during its use — and making spending decisions with facts in hand.

The research, validated with in-market performance, gives them the confidence that spending X will yield Y results, which for brand marketers run the gamut from increases in awareness to affinity and intent to purchase, among many others.

Digital advertising, for various reasons, never adopted this discipline and instead, asked marketers to change their behavior. Not a strategy for long-term growth, needless to say.

There are good reasons for this. After all, for the majority of its history, digital advertising was predominantly a direct marketing medium in which results were immediately, directly seen.

In addition, digital budgets were small, reflecting the medium’s limited reach, and the cost of proper research (a term I wouldn’t apply to early forms of intercept studies) as a percentage of spend was prohibitively high.

That has changed now, with major brands able to spend major amounts in digital. In this world, the evidence of effectiveness that’s required changes considerably.

Now I must come clean with you, dear reader, and confess: I was so profoundly affected by the encounters with brand marketers noted above that I left the IAB and now lead an advertising and media research firm.

I loved my time at the IAB creating engaging advertising experiences, as detailed here. The next frontier, I reasoned in leaving, is in helping the advertising and media industries understand effectiveness in the new, digitally driven world.

I look forward to sharing what I learn on my new journey in this space. Here are five principles to start.

1. Start With The Facts


Brand marketers have consumer insight groups populated with experienced market researchers steeped in the strict discipline of starting with facts.

In my experience, digital advertising effectiveness conversations are too often based on opinion, conjecture and assumptions. I was as guilty as anyone, often extrapolating from my offline experience.

Importantly, with facts in hand, hypotheses can be developed and insights gleaned, and this is often necessary to suss out the value of new media forms.

2. Fewer Is Better


In moving into the market research world, I expected to be inundated with metrics. While marketers and their research partners do create and plow through an impressive volume of numbers, they invariably focus on just a handful that matter to them, often just two or three.

Digital advertising practitioners, in contrast, seem to take joy in spitting out more, more, more. It seems intuitive that more diminishes the value of each, and I have found this to be true.

Put the cauldron of calculations in the addendum, and focus on a few metrics that matter.

3. Just Because Digital Uses Technology, That Doesn’t Make It Science


Digital practitioners overestimate the capacity of Big Data, technology and math to provide the answers to the industry’s toughest questions.

“The data will tell us.” “Let the machines decide.” “The algorithm will optimize for the answer.” This hasn’t been the case.

Now, the industry has finally come to the realization that what matters is the understanding and insight that marketers can glean from these engines of digital marketing.

“That’s a research question” is increasingly being added to the chorus as time-tested methods of strategic and systematic investigation are deployed, together with data, tech and math, to more rigorously separate the signal from the noise for brands and publishers.

For the two remaining points, check out the full article on


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