I Belong To The Blank Generation

At BrainJuicer we love a cheeky experiment, and they don’t get much cheekier than this – researchers who decided to find out the click-through rate of an entirely blank ad.

This summary from Ad Contrarian highlights exactly why the results might go beyond cheeky and into “downright embarrassing” for digital marketers. If clicks are a reliable metric, then on average blank ads are only minutely less effective than branded ads.

Which demands the question – are clicks a reliable metric? Some would say they never have been. They’ve almost always been dreadfully low, for one thing – when companies like Nielsen started measuring banner ads in the 2000s the story was one of tiny returns, with the only ads getting close to 1% involving flashing boxes and punching monkeys. The average was shrinking fast, and kept on falling. Now it’s down in the hundredths of a percent.

A free ipod! Gee golly! (Sorry, not an actual ad)

There comes a point at which data becomes indistinguishable from noise, and click data may well have reached it. The argument was always that because it measured actual behaviour, even the smallest click-through rate was at least measuring something.

But the blank ads experiment shows that there’s a constant rate of noise in the form of mistaken clicks. In the mobile age, as fat thumbs meet small screens, this proportion will surely rise. It’s no wonder Ad Age ends up waxing philosophical: “what is a click?” it asks sadly.

We are great believers in focusing on behaviour, and that changing behaviour should be a research outcome. But – especially online – there is an awful lot of tempting behaviour to measure, and it’s easy to be seduced by that. “If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it,” the gurus tell us, and they sound very pragmatic. But it doesn’t make “If you can measure it, you can manage it” any truer. A click seems concrete, but may be as insubstantial as… a blank advert.

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