Monday, August 18, 2008

Is Search The “New Reach” When Users Are In Control?

The article that ran in today’s Ad Age indicating that search is critical for consumer package-goods brands, further changes the way that advertising on the digital platform will need to be approached.

According to the article, brands generated an average 160% increase in unaided awareness by being present in standard sponsored-text search results compared with when consumers weren’t exposed to their search ads. Of equal interest was the widespread use of search even for seemingly low-interest, package-goods categories.

Search, up to now, has mostly been text-based. But, as we move forward, search will be incorporating more and more video. So, the 1st question is this—can the term “search” be used to define user-initiated video advertising? In other words, when viewers opt-in to video advertising, can that be considered a form of “search?”

Taking this train of thought further, should search be generalized as any and all non-intrusive advertising, text-based or video-based? As it stands now, search is advertising that viewers need to initiate, or opt-in to. So, it seems as if it non-intrusive video advertising would already be included.

Which leads to question number two. Does “search” become the “new reach” when viewers are in total control of the digital platform?

Reach is a function of the advertiser’s intent. Search is a function of the viewer’s intent. As control continues to shift to the user, the viewer’s intent trumps the advertiser’s intent.

In other words, advertisers no longer reach viewers. Viewers reach advertisers.

We all know that intrusive advertising is disliked by consumers. But since there seems to be few, if any, viable alternatives, the practice continues unabated. As well, since we know viewers will skip intrusive advertising if given the opportunity, we take away any control they may have when those ads run. Rather than engagement, it is really a measurement of entrapment.

Does anyone really still believe that viewers are paying attention to pre-roll ads just because we disable the fast-forward button?

Surprisingly, consumers today actively search out information, even for such mundane products as package-goods. Which, to me, seems to say that it’s not so much advertising that people dislike, as it is the way that advertising is forced on them, completely out of their control.

So what would happen if all advertising were search-based rather than reach-based?

Well, for one, the media agencies would have a major problem with this. After all, their job is to buy reach. Even though we all know that reach is really just another word for waste.

Search, on the other hand, eliminates waste as only those who are interested opt-in. You could argue that search is reach without the waste. And, if you did, you’d start to wonder why anyone would still buy digital media based solely on impressions.

I know, impressions can be aggregated. If we didn’t buy impressions, what would we aggregate?

My answer, now more than ever, is that what we should be measuring and aggregating is the length of time that viewers spend with the brand. After all, when viewers are in control, they can leave when they want. Isn’t the amount of time they spend with a message of value to the advertiser?

And isn’t more time better than less time?

To put it simply, time-spent is an impression in the control of the viewer.

Perhaps what we should be measuring now isn’t so much what the advertiser does when the viewer isn’t in control, but what viewers do, when they are.

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