OPA Study Knocks Ad Networks

NEW YORK Online ad networks are virtually useless when it comes to influencing purchase intent and are poor vehicles for brand advertising overall, according to a new research report issued by the Online Publishers Association.

The new research, conducted for the OPA by Dynamic Logic, largely favored OPA member sites over ad networks and even portals for traditional branding metrics such as awareness, message association, brand favorability and purchase intent. For example, compared to industry averages compiled by the OPA over time, content sites’ scores for awareness metrics were 21 percent higher — and 50 percent higher when compared to ad networks.

However, it’s purchase intent — the much-desired ability of an ad to actually influence sales — where ad networks fail miserably, according to the new research. Purchase intent scores were nine times better for content sites than ad networks, found the research, as ad networks’ effect on purchase intent was negligible. In fact, even though the lift in purchase intent doubled versus a similar study conducted about a year earlier, the measured increase in intent “remained statistically insignificant,” per the report.

“Ad network performance has continued to trend downward, with this wave of research showing collectively that ad networks provide advertisers with no increase on purchase intent,” said OPA president Pam Horan. “In other words, brands see a flat line on purchase intent if they do not advertise versus if they advertise on advertising networks.”

While ad networks fare the worst in the new research, Web portals such as Yahoo, AOL and MSN don’t come out much better. The OPA’s research found that branded content sites consistently outperform portals on key metrics that brand advertisers care about. For example, content sites drove purchase intent metrics that were roughly two-thirds higher than the scores delivered by portals. The strongest performing ad placement overall: video ads on OPA member content sites, which drove purchase intent numbers that were 163 percent higher than industry averages and 93 percent higher than portals.

The OPA’s new report escalates the ongoing war in the online ad industry between branded content sites, the CNN.coms and Forbes.coms of the world, and online ad networks, which have been accused by many of driving down prices in the marketplace by turning display advertising into a commodity. Regardless, ad networks continue to thrive and many top publishers still rely on them to sell significant portions of their inventory.

But preserving the premium clout of content sites and resuscitating the medium’s reputation as a branding vehicle have become major causes for the OPA, particularly during the recession. Just a few months ago the organization released another elaborate study urging the industry to wean itself off the click-through metric.

Nielsen Business Media