Banner ads aren't going down without a fight. Marketers and publishers have been hearing for awhile that display ads are not nearly as effective as search. And in terms of click through rates, they aren't.

But just because people aren't clicking on banner ads, it doesn't mean they aren't working. That's long been the cry of display ad sellers, and now comScore has come out with a study that shows how display contributes to sales, even if consumers aren't immediately clicking through to purchase.

Partnering with the Online Publishers Association, comScore has published "The Silent Click: Building Brands Online." The news will be welcomed by companies like Microsoft, which in particular has been trying to pull its display business out of the strangle hold of click throughs with the launch of engagement ads.

It may be fashionable to disparage display — just last week Barry Diller was ringing the death knell of banner ads, saying: “We’re all at the earliest period of display advertising, which has been standardized into formats where people can say, ‘I know what to ignore.’"

But withholding clicks and ignoring ads are not the same thing. Display ads still make up 20% of the $32 billion online advertising spend. And according to ComScore, display ads contribute to the online ad spend, even if consumers aren't clicking on them.

The study looked at 80 of the biggest branding campaigns across 200 of the most trafficked sites over a month’s time, and found that of the people exposed to display ad campaigns:

  • One in five conduct related searches and one in three visit the brands' sites
  • Users spent over 50% more time than the average visitor to these sites and consumed more pages
  • Users spent about 10% more money online overall, and significantly more on product categories related to the advertised brands
  • Higher income audiences visited the advertisers’ sites 

According to Pam Horan, president of the Online Publishers Association:

"To date, measuring a brand campaign meant relying on the click, a metric more appropriate for direct response advertising. In order to understand the value of the audiences that display advertising attracts, our study helps marketers think about real behavioral measures designed to move the needle."

The inherently measurable nature of the Internet has helped advertisers get more bang for their buck online, but in many cases, finding out what to measure is the most important metric. Getting advertisers and consumers to think outside the clickthrough box is a step toward rehabilitating display. But once you throw out the current metric for measurement, you get to the next question. How do you charge customers who are accustomed to paying for ads based on clicks when clicks don't matter?

Meghan Keane

Published 19 June, 2009 by Meghan Keane

Based in New York, Meghan Keane is US Editor of Econsultancy. You can follow her on Twitter: @keanesian.

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Comments (1)

David Iwanow

David Iwanow, SEO Product Manager at

I think it will be a move back to CPC as I work with advertisers they dont really care too much about impressions, so I dont want to pay a site for CPM.  They typically have low CTR but can be great for branding campaigns that encourage or remind people to search for your brand. 

Display ads are a great call to action but you need engagement mapping in place to ensure you can track how many times someone was exposed to your brand before making the decision to contact you or purchase something online.

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