History has shown that creative range and expression is inextricably linked to technology. It's not often that I compare media buying to art history but consider that until the Venetians found a way to grind lapis lazuli into a paste, blue was almost entirely absent from the canvases of European paintings. The aquatic colours of impressionism would not have been possible prior to this chemical breakthrough; the colour range simply did not exist. But once technology made it possible, it helped fundamentally transform the artistic trends of the day.
Advertising is no different, particularly within the digital media environment. Technological advances have materially expanded the creative opportunities afforded to brands. We now inhabit a world where the digital advertiser can execute creative and user-friendly creative executions across more platforms than ever before. With social media, video, games, downloads, images and animation units, digital is now able to deliver engaging and sophisticated brand interactions and experiences.
But whilst the creative side of the industry has embraced the possibilities of these technological advances, the way the industry measures campaign success has not kept abreast of the changes.
This means that the real value of these immersive and highly creative experiences is often overlooked. This is all the more puzzling given every single media channel is currently on the look-out for deeper audience engagement for their brands. If you look around you will see companies experimenting with pop-up stores, mist-producing bus shelters on hot days, red and green buttons for subscription TV, and radio networks hosting rooftop parties. And yet, even though digital can and does deliver comparably engaging experiences, the industry is still fixated on reach and frequency.
But I sincerely hope that the times, they are a-changin’. More and more industry heavyweights are beginning to evangelise and highlight the power of engagement. AOL’s Digital Prophet, David Shing, recently predicted “attention will become the new currency” and John Slade, commercial director of digital advertising for The Financial Times has revealed the publisher’s plans to leverage the so-called ‘attention economy’, thereby placing dwell time and engagement as a primary success measure. Publishers have long recognised the need to hold audience attention; this simply compels advertisers to start thinking the same way.
The good news is that we already have a buying model that uses engagement as a campaign goal. Cost per engagement (CPE) means that brands only pay for users that take the time to act within their creative framework. Its value is multifold. Campaigns that are bought this way act as a natural filtration system, charging only for users of value. The ways in which these users act within the unit can in turn provide learnings for advertisers as to which campaign or brand elements are the more persuasive and interesting to the consumer. By extension, this propagates more functional, journey-based creative.
Finally, there is something that is of perhaps even greater value when it comes to effective digital campaigns: the ability to avoid ad fraud. Engagement-based units, coupled with buying models that are tied to interaction, greatly reduce the risk of fraudulent action because brands are only paying for actions that can be performed by a human. In a market in which we see and hear daily reports of questionable placements, bot traffic and invisible inventory, CPE units could just be the solution brands and buyers are seeking.
Tethering online media to buying and reporting models focused on clicks and impressions, and holding reach as the overriding metric fails to recognise the value inherent in engagement-based advertising. Digital media has again shown us how closely coupled creativity is with technology. All we need to do now is use the tools that we have to better understand what value attention and engagement can bring to brands.
Tyler Greer is APAC head of strategy at Exponential Interactive