I have to warn you that I’m a bit riled up today. In the past few weeks I’ve read some pretty questionable research commissioned by companies with a vested interest in the reports. Both point to a pretty doubtful conclusion: that unclicked paid search impressions somehow build CPG brands’ business. It’s a strike against meaningful marketing and a strike against common sense – aimed to put brand dollars into the coffers of the search giants.
The first research report comes from Google, which updated its CPG blog for only the third time since April to announce that a study came back showing that people exposed to brand names during a mock search for words such as ”drinks” filled out a survey and showed (surprise!) a stronger brand impression for the exposed brands. Even more shocking was the fact that (gasp!) if your competitor got the search impression, your brand’s awareness actually goes down in viewers’ minds. So, there’s a little fear marketing thrown in for good measure. Kevin Kells, Director of CPG for Google concludes:
the need for ROI models of search to include the impression–not just the click–to value the effectiveness of a search campaign in CPG.”
Interestingly, Google helpfully points to a similar study by its arch-competitor, Yahoo!, which also showed a significant increase in brand purchase intent in a research study that sat consumers in artificial search exercises.
Here’s the real story if you haven’t figured it out by now: Search companies have been unable to turn CPG brands – some of the biggest spenders in marketing – into big buyers of search terms. They are spending only $140 million to $180 million per year on paid search, according to eMarketer. That compares to P&G alone spending $4 billion per year on advertising. Plus, did you know that many, many searches come up with NO paid search results? (for example, type in the words: “this is a wasted search” on your Google search bar, and your results page will have no ads). That’s because no direct-response marketer wants them. There’s tons of ad inventory out there waiting for Crest or Coke to jump in!
I do not think Google or Yahoo! or any other self-interested agency or media company is necessarily evil. But marketers need to dig deeper when they come forward with the PowerPoint slides. Here are just a few issues I have with this study:
- Both experiments put consumers into an artificial search scenario. Research subjects tend to pay more attention, and tend to want to reward the brands that are paying for their opinions.
- Neither experiment has a tie to an impartial organization, such as a university, which could serve as a neutral third party.
- The survey used to measure brand attitudes came immediately after the test. Of course people remember brands right after that. What happens a day or longer later when the person is actually at the shelf?
- Where’s the ROI analysis? Google’s Kells wants these search impressions included, but fails to show the business benefit in his research. Marketers need to know if this blimp is worth their money and time.
- The experiments measure concepts such as awareness and purchase intent, rather than actual change in sales. Yahoo! does a great job with its Consumer Direct program, in which it partners with ACNielsen to get actual household panel sales data – but why didn’t it do so for this study?
I think my friend Randy Peterson, innovation leader at P&G, got it right when he told Advertising Age that:
I think our brands have such a strong presence that it’s nice to be in the first position, but I don’t think we have to be there. I’m not convinced it’s worth paying the extra money or the extra effort to get there yet.”
We are all trying to figure out how to retain or increase sales at a time when consumer media habits are changing dramatically. My passion, my gut, and, yeah, my self-interest, is for us to stop inventing studies that “sell eyeballs” and put that effort into creating marketing that consumers actually find useful, and that actually moves cases.
UPDATE: At a recent Ad Age Digital Bites Breakfast, a host of digerati admitted that they still cannot get a good engagement measure for search. I love that “engagement” is coming to the fore here. It’s not enough for us to rely on impressions when people see over 3,000 ads per day.