Woah. So all of sudden the Facebook thing happens and NOW everyone is saying
"Yeah, but do online ads really work?"
A discussion that has been going on in Advertising circles for a long time.
Personally I have always felt that the "trackability" and "measureability" of the Web has been overstated. For a new medium we tend to have pretty old media measurement models with things such as CPM rates (cost per thousand impressions) and click through rates. Even with more "so called" sophisticated targeting and tracking, we still end up asking the same question, do online ads 'work? And what does everyone mean by work anyhow?
Does it mean someone saw them?
Does it mean someone clicked on them?
Does it mean a particular action happened like a pay-per-action model?
Does it mean it generated a lead that led to a sale?
That someone filled out a form?
Does it mean someone was tracked until they purchased something on an e-commerce site?
Was it one sale? Was it a lifetime customer?
Does it mean they like the brand more now? Eh?
What makes matters worse (and I'm not even talking about click through fraud) is that online discussions tend to ignore other forms of media and advertising (because we ALL know advertising doesn't work!). Maybe they clicked on an ad but only did that after their had been exposed to TV, print ads, some radio play as well as a direct mail flyer.
I think what this all calls for is some realistic discussions around measurement, industry wide new standards for ways we measure and broadening out the definition of online advertising from banner and google ads to include other forms of online communications (social media, corporate websites etc.).
Online advertising's dirty little secret is out. Now it's time to do something about it.
(photo credit "shhhh" http://www.flickr.com/photos/vincross/182183355/)