Game of Zones: display mutating again?

- November 27, 2013

Cost Per Mille (mille Lat.: thousand) was originally used in the newspaper industry. Comparing the relative cost of reaching readers in between a national newspaper with a circulation of 1.2m and a local one of 75,000 is impossible without calculating the CPM.

(Cost of insertion / Number of readers) / 1,000
This model was transposed to the Internet with the substitution of 'readers' with 'impressions'; the number of times a banner is shown to a user.

Can you see the one at the bottom?
Display banners principally do two things:
  1. Deliver an advertiser's brand and message
  2. Provoke an interaction, normally a click
Neither of these things happen (or can happen) if the user does not actually see the banner. When it comes to a web page, the 'impression' happens on the load and rendering of the page. If a site has very long (and not very interesting) pages, the fact that an 'impression' happens at the bottom of the page doesn't help.

This has led some marketers to obsess about 'above-the-fold' placements. This is another newspaper term co-opted to the Internet world; coming from the days of large papers which folded in half. A few years ago, there was some consensus as to where the 'fold' was on a webpage, but the addition of mobiles, tablets and other devices to the mix means this is a moving target now (which means advertising needs to adapt depending on the device). Smaller screens also means more impressions may be lost; for example, on an article-type page the most common behaviour is to zoom to the column width of the article, which hides the right-column which is a common place to run ads.

There is some sense to worrying about placement, but I think a focus on engagement measurement is a more useful approach in most cases. Clicks (2 above) can be tracked reasonably accurately, but how do we approach the 'branding effect'. There are various ways to follow users around and infer effectiveness from post-impression actions or use CTR on different channels as a proxy for the effectiveness, but no simple metric to follow. Things would be a lot easier if we knew that an ad had actually been seen... Looks like things are moving that way as Google just got certified by the MRC for its 'Active View' product. Short version is that this will now be an option for CPM bids on the Google Display Network and will probably force itself cross-industry as a standard for the future. Get a more detailed run down on this development here.

About the author

Interested in all things Internet, especially in the effects on marketing and how brands are changing the way they relate to their customers and prospects.