The last 24 hours I have been presenting some new global data findings to various members of the industry press; namely do people “see” and “like” ads online – and is there a way of measuring this in better ways then the archaic concept of ‘click thru’ in relation to display advertising.

I mentioned that I think offline there is a key distinction between “advertising” and “design” agencies – the former focusing on strategy over function. Digital often gets a rough ride in my opinion with agency folk supposed to know everything from e-commerce to brand building. FAIL! A good designer does not equal a good art director or copywriter – these are wildly different skill sets. I for one therefore am championing the call to see Madison Avenue marketing moguls fully embrace digital media and bring a much needed maturity and wisdom on how to better develop consumer relationships in the 21st Century, alongside all our technical know-how. I really do believe over the next few years we are going to see more and more the growing distinction between digital design agencies and digital ad agencies, and in truth you already can with a lot more strategic concepts beginning to be discussed.

Brian Morrissey from Ad Week just picked this up on his own blog “Are designers to blame for bad Web ads?

So here’s my thinking based on ad strategy over creative execution; rather than utilise budgets for microsites, we spend time, energy and budgets building better ads. A concept I have could name several global advertisers already shifting towards. The bottom line is all advertising exists were users are and brings the message to them – TV to sofa, etc. Most advertising actually enhances content – people buy magazines to discover cars/clothes, etc shown off in glossy double-spread ads. Ads in most media are both physically large and plentiful, yet all are enhancing stories that create desire. None of them expect you to go elsewhere…

Online has perpetuated the misconceived notion that you need to “change the channel” to see the ad, i.e. go to a microsite, and we measure this by CTR. Can you imagine doing that on TV? “Click here to watch the TV ad”… good luck!

Now that CTR is failing, to those who suggest display advertising will die to widgets is suggesting all TV, Print, Outdoor is ineffective and will die also. Hogwash. Display advertising hasn’t even evolved into what it could or should yet… I wrote about this before following a high profile argument on whether advertising online would fail?

I am convinced, it’s not the format or channel that’s failing, it’s the metric that is floored. Clicks work great for search, appalling for display. Interaction Rate tries to compare a video ad with a single interaction point, to a game ad with tens of interaction points – you cannot. Period. Its creative dependent, so all benchmarks for Interaction Rate are floored.In fact I just wish Interaction rate would be erased from any discussions surrounding benchmarks. That is why there is huge need to move towards measuring online display ads the same way as we measure web visits – in terms of numbers of arrivals, and amount of time they spend there. Hence “Dwell Time”.

It’s a fallacy in people’s thinking that digital is purely constrained to websites; that “online” means web-browser… especially when I spend half my life checking online from my iPhone or seeing more and more digital outdoor panels. Similarly it’s a fallacy to think that the golden age of advertising is over and the maturity of those who tread the path for many years before and understand how to build a brand no longer matters; worse, they are being bad mouthed by code-junkies. Look, consumers are media-neutral, clients are media-neutral – and TV, Print, Outdoor works and will ALWAYS work – it’s just that they will evolve as they embrace an element of audio-visual interactivity following receiving an internet connection. Dwell Time in turn offers a potential way to port across media channels as they become interactive, thereby offering advertisers a genuine way to measure display advertising and answer “yes the consumer SAW your ad” in a way TV or Print currently cannot.

So my argument is that if we created better ads where people are, better engaging stories – utilizing what we have learned offline and entwined it with the potential of online – people would not be annoyed so much, but rather enjoy ads. We discussed last night at dinner how many times TV ads are searched on YouTube and then posted on Facebook, for example. But we DO need to justify online advertising, as we have created a rod for our own back. We need a metric. We need some way of convincing clients, as that is what they have come to expect from online; it’s measurable. This is what I have been doing for the last couple of years in trying to develop “Dwell Time” on the back of some discussions with agency folk a couple of years back – a simple catch-all metric that works across all display formats and gives us something positive to say against declining clicks. Dwell Time measures the number of people who touch an ad (rate) and for how long in seconds (duration) discounting all those who leave the ad before one second. It also only tracks user behavior, so as soon as you mouse out, counter is stopped and restarted if you mouse back in – all per impression/exposure.

Having monitored well over a billion impressions globally over last few months, and spliced data from all formats, to time of day, to publisher environments, and by industry verticals, to global regions – comparing to click-thru and monitoring effect of video in relation to creative impact – I have been utterly blown away by what I have learned as I have poured over the data. A lot of misconceptions I had thought have been corrected especially in regards to the most effective formats.

When we look at all data, we find some startling truths. Nearly 10% of all ads are “touched” and those that are, are actively played with for about 1 minute – slighly less for ads without video. Compared to your 0.5% CTR is saying that for every 5 people who click on an ad, 100 will play for one whole minute! That means consumers are 20x more likely to explore a brand next to content, then click thru to advertiser’s site. Not only that, but they will spend twice the length of average 30 sec TV ad, with the potential to actively explore the product and strike deeper emotional connections that result in greater brand recall. It also means that with a shift to pre-roll 15 second ad formats, in Banner video is doing the exact opposite – its driving more interactions and creating longer periods of time to hold their attention as they are done on user request, not forced upon. Afterall, if user is not interested, they leave the ad and hence ‘zero’ Dwell Time, not a 60 second Dwell Time.

That alone is a HUGE incentive for advertisers who want to engage with consumers. It also suggests that people do not dislike advertising online at all, any more then they dislike ads in print – in fact the opposite – and should be the confidence we all need to discuss ways of better engaging with consumers, and demanding bigger creative budgets from clients.

That is not all; desktop ads out perform all other ad formats with the exception of floating ads. Yes that is right – floating ads both attract consumers to interact and hold their attention – not for as long as other formats, but enough to prove to me that people are prepared to accept, interact and respond to the format – 3x more than ANY other format. How many times have I stood up and said that high CTR on floating ads was driven by people trying to close the ads? How wrong I have been…

I am going to hold other findings till I publish the research in a few weeks time in the next Eyeblaster Analytics Bulletin.

Or of course you can still build microsites and just hope people “change the channel” and try and justify to clients the dwindling CTR and dwindling budgets with demands for greater ROI, whilst the rest of us realize post-impression is more powerful then click-thru, that huge amounts of search is driven by display ads, that offline sales are drive by online display, and people online both like ads and play with them – for a whole minute – and they would do so a LOT more if we could just build bigger, better ads that actually enhance the consumer experience.