Thursday, January 27, 2011

The Fallacy of Impressions

(ĭm-prĕsh'ən) pronunciation
  1. An effect, feeling, or image retained as a consequence of experience.
  2. A vague notion, remembrance, or belief: I have the impression that we have met once before.
  3. A mark produced on a surface by pressure.
  4. The act or process of impressing.
  5. Printing.
    1. All the copies of a publication printed at one time from the same set of type.
    2. A single copy of such a printing.
  6. A humorous imitation of the voice and mannerisms of a famous person done by an entertainer.
  7. An initial or single coat of color or paint.
  8. Dentistry. An imprint of the teeth and surrounding tissues, formed with a plastic material that hardens into a mold for use in making dentures, inlays, or plastic models
To say I hate this term is an understatement. I loathe it. The term has earned Ad Agencies a Gazillion Dollars. Brands love buying them. It's like buying air though. You can't see them. But since you breathe air, you know you need it to live, you accept that it is there. How many Brands are clueless that after all those TV, Radio, Digital, and Out of Home Impressions it turns out in the Supermarket their box design is what catches people's eye? Or you happened to have the best Price-Value proposition of your competitors? Will an Agency tell you that? Hell no.

TV Impressions - Number of people who watched a commercial. 
But did they really watch it? How do you know. Were you in the room tracking their eyes?

TV: Well we actually did that with some people.
Chief Alien: But you claimed 1 million views. All one million?
TV: Well we extrapolated and used an algorithm. Here is your invoice.
Chief Alien: How about I cut you a check for 80% just in case some left the room?

Out of Home Impressions - Number of people who viewed a Billboard
This is highly dependent on location. Some have much higher potential. In subway cars or certain street locations do better than say overlooking Freeways. LINK

OOH: We know 100,000 cars pass by this Billboard everyday. X 30 = 3million X 1.7 passengers = 5.1million Impressions.
Chief Alien: Do you know what speed they were all driving? Because if they were at highway speed they would be less likely to see and consume your ad. Or in heavy traffic too they could be watching out to ensure they don't get in an accident. What about the 0.7 passengers. Were they looking out the window? On the Phone? Reading? Playing with the Radio/IPod? Putting ketchup on their burger?
OOH: We did some surveys. We used some sophisticated measuring technology with some cameras. Plus people tell us they read Billboards when they are driving and they are bored.
Chief Alien: How about I cut you a check for 3mil Impressions not every vehicle with 1.7 people could have possibly paid attention to our Billboard.

My point of this is not to make fun of the TV or Out of Home Vendors. It is up to you to do your own math. Whether you are the head of Marketing or a Media Buyer you have to do your own analysis. When you ask for a price quote, get the Rate and their quoted Impression numbers and decide for yourself. Include everything in your pricing analysis.

Billboard costs $50,000 for one month. They claim 5million impressions or $0.01/impression or $10 CPM. $50,000 is your cost. But if you know the location and you know you will be lucky to get half those impressions your internal cost should be double. And that is what you should be basing your ROI calculations on.

I am not saying the Advertising efforts did not work. Or should not be undertaken. But a lot goes into a buying decision. I bet if I don't see another Geico commercial for the next 2 years I will still remember '15 minutes could save me 15% on Car Insurance'. In fact in my judgement Geico could spend 50% less on TV advertising and see zero decrease in phone calls or sales. I bet their Media Buyer would never admit that.

*credit to for the definition of impressions.

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