Did the ad work?

Digital advertising has turned millions of people and organisations into not just the target of ads, but the advertisers as well.

But it doesn’t easily answer the obvious question: Did that ad work?

Long before digital ads were invented, my late friend Lester Wunderman coined the term “Direct Marketing.” This is measured, active advertising. Spend $10 on an ad and you’ll know by tomorrow if you made $20 or lost five.

Lester helped invent the American Express card and grew the Columbia Record Club, among other direct marketing heroics. The secret is simple: Measure an ad, and if it ‘works’, do it more.

And so, Google. Google makes billions of dollars selling direct marketing to organisations that aren’t being particularly brave, insightful or clever. They’re simply testing, measuring and repeating.

On the other hand, ads on podcasts or Twitter almost never measure well. They rarely seem to ‘work’ in the P&L sense, because they’re brand ads, not direct ads.

The purpose of a brand ad is to deliver a hard-to-measure but important feeling to the potential consumer. The brand ad tells a story, builds trust and most of all, helps a customer decide that this brand makes them feel good enough (hard to define) that they’ll pay extra for it.

If you try to measure brand ads, like quarks and other quantum phenomena, the benefits disappear. The very things you would do to make them measure better cause them to be pretty lousy brand ads.

Running brand ads in a medium that is counter to what the brand is trying to accomplish makes very little sense, regardless of how much it costs. On the other hand, sponsoring interactions that build trust and connection is hard to overpay for.

All a long way of saying that advertisers in the digital space are finally spending more time and energy thinking about the places they’re advertising and wondering about whether they’re simply making more noise or actually making a difference.

Seth Godin is the author of 19 bestseller books and Founder of altMBA and The Marketing Seminar online workshops. His blog is one of the most popular in the world and his five TED talks continue to spread far beyond the USA borders. Seth was inducted into the Marketing Hall of Fame in 2018. sethgodin.com

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