In 1999, Hasbro Interactive published Rollercoaster Tycoon, a PC game that allowed players to build and operate their own virtual theme parks. It went on to become one of the best selling PC titles of all time.
I had a bird’s eye view of the software industry because I worked in marketing at Hasbro Interactive and its eventual acquirer, Infogrames/Atari. Hasbro did something that at the time was considered revolutionary in the gaming space.
We produced and aired this TV commercial for Rollercoaster Tycoon.
What happened next startles my digital marketing peers today when I tell them the story, for every time Hasbro aired this ad, sales took off. The boost was consistent and meaningful, even though in order for it to happen, customers had to see the ad, remember it, and then get in a car, go to a store, find the gaming department, hope the game was in-stock, find the price to be acceptable, and actually buy the game.
When I think back on all the things that had to go right in order for the title to achieve a 2x or more increase in weekly sales during a TV ad campaign, it becomes harder to believe. If a digital transaction required this much work, it would be doomed to fail.
That it worked is a tribute to the power of TV advertising. Terrific creative plus the metrics of reach, frequency and impressions all conspired to deliver superior results for our business. TV still can deliver performance. My marketing peers at Nokia told me as recently as 18 months ago that it was their most effective tactic.
Marketers counting on impressions to deliver the same kind of results digitally, though, are waking up to the reality that TV’s power has not, in general, carried over to mobile and digital marketing. Despite the best efforts of publishers, advertisers, agencies, and technology enablers, using digital marketing to deliver impressions and the results like the kind we saw at Hasbro is getting harder.
Not long ago, I wrote about the broken digital advertising ecosystem. I really meant the traditional digital advertising marketplace for reach, frequency and impressions. If my blog post wasn’t enough to persuade you, then you must read this damning piece in Bloomberg, which reveals just how much of the web traffic advertisers count as impressions is fake.
In short, if you’re a digital marketer who still puts a premium on acquiring impressions, there are a number of legitimate and, unfortunately, illegitimate providers who will be happy to supply them. With so much fraud and a host of other problems, it’s hard to see any other outcome than the slow death of the digital impression. Brands and marketers who buy them will struggle to justify their integrity.
The solution: stop assigning a value to the digital impression.
Instead, marketers should move more of their digital budgets to tactics that are both measurable and meaningful to the business. That means focusing digital and mobile marketing dollars on activities that are further down the funnel, moving away from impressions and toward clicks that produce sales. Search and Facebook advertising, for example, can help marketers target users who have expressed an interest or intent to buy, they are nearly immune to fraudulent clicks, and it’s possible to directly measure the impact of these ads on purchases. Since these ad formats also generate impressions for consumers who don’t buy, you can consider them to be icing on the cake.
If you’re a brand marketer, don’t feel relegated to obsolescence. For example, consider using your co-op marketing budgets to buy ads on Facebook with your retail partners to drive in-store sales.
TV advertising won’t disappear any time soon. Even though it may be harder to measure than most digital tactics, I’ve seen TV work. In most cases, though, its effectiveness just doesn’t translate to mobile and digital channels. Fortunately, marketers have performance-based options that do work. Now is the time to master their tactics so that you can stay ahead of the inevitable decline of the digital impression.