There’s this wonderful little piece whizzing around the Internet lately that showcases all the highly-improbable things that are more likely to happen to you than your consciously clicking a banner ad.
I get it. It’s healthy for our industry to have a frank conversation about click-through rate (CTR), click fraud and response rates in general. The strategist in me wants to ignore this cute article, since anybody who launches a broad-based, untargeted banner campaign in the hopes of achieving high CTR has probably already figured out that there are more efficient things to do in digital media if your goal is ad clicks.
But the math geek in me won’t let this go. The figures circulating with this story are misleading at best, and downright wrong at worst. So let’s set the record straight.
First, let’s talk about surviving a plane crash.
It surprised me to find out that 95.7% of people involved in plane crashes survive, according to the NTSB. (Warning: PDF, see page 7.) Granted, the data is somewhat old (cumulatively from 1983 to 2000), but bear with me.
To survive a plane crash, first you have to get into one. Scouring the web for a citation-worthy risk of getting into a plane crash, I didn’t find much. But I did find a number representing your annualized chances of dying in a plane crash. That number is 1 in 11 million. It’s a U.S. Department of Transportation number that I’ve seen cited all over the web. And it’s probably something you’re going to want to repeat over and over to yourself when you experience turbulence on your next trip to Disney with the family.
Now, if your chance of dying from a plane crash is 1 in 11 million (0.00000909%), and only 4.3% of people involved in plane crashes die, then your chance of being in a plane crash at all is somewhere in the neighborhood of 0.00021%. Multiplying that number by the 95.7% gives you a chance of being in a plane crash and surviving of around 0.000202%. Just to use round numbers, let’s call that two ten-thousandths of a percent annual risk.
And then there’s the annualized chance of clicking on a banner ad. Here’s a neat page with some of the stats we’ll need. If comScore says 5.3 trillion ads were served to U.S. users last year, and 31 percent of them were non-viewable, that’s 3.657 trillion that were viewable. (I know, I know. I’m giving benefit of the doubt to a company that’s got a dog in the viewability hunt. Bear with me.)
The average web population in the U.S. (3 month average ending December 2012) was 220,582,000 according to comScore. My calculator tells me that means your average American who went on the web via their PC last year was served a little more than 16.5 banner ads last year. (Yes, I know I’m discounting mobile, and I’m failing to account for non-web users. Again, bear with me.) Assuming each of those banner ads had a 0.1% chance of being clicked on, the average American had a 1.65% chance of clicking on a banner ad last year.
Even if we assume that half of those clicks were fraudulent or accidental, we’re still in the neighborhood of 0.825%
So, does 0.0002% beat 0.825%? Nope.
Sorry to geek out on you like that.
Realistically, the conversation should be about whether it’s a good idea at all to run huge, untargeted banner campaigns in order to garner clicks. If you’ve spent more than six months in digital media, you already know the answer to that one. And it’s good to have conversations about fraud, viewability and whether CTR is even a valid metric for a campaign’s success.
But we all know that unless somebody debunks this, somebody in a marketing meeting is going to trot out the “You’re more likely to survive a plane crash than click on a banner ad” argument against spending in digital. That type of sound bite can be damaging. Not only does it assume that the entire value of a banner ad is represented by the clicks it can deliver (it’s not), but it also dismisses the ROI that well-targeted digital ads can bring to the table.
For instance, our agency has a long history of being able to show that the ROI for banners can often come from the effect they have on brands. If you measure awareness, purchase intent and brand preference, for example, you may find that your ROI comes not from people who immediately click on your banner and visit your website, but from the preference they develop for your brand and the subsequent lift in off-the-shelf sales. We’ve also got a rich history of being able to illuminate the other tactics to invest in if you absolutely, positively must increase traffic to your website. (Hint: It’s not massive, untargeted banner campaigns.)