Online advertising executives love talking about “engagement”: It is not the impressions or clicks that count, it is how many people who saw your ad and actually ended up doing something about it. In a speech today Brian McAndrews, Microsoft’s senior vice president of Advertiser & Publisher Solutions, announced the beta of a new way to measure the effectiveness of ad campaigns that Microsoft is calling “Engagement Mapping.” Instead of measuring clicks or impressions, engagement mapping aims to track how many times a person comes across an ad on the Web, and correlate that to actions taken down the line. So if you see an ad on Facebook for a Visa card, and then on three other sites before you click through to sign up, Microsoft will give Facebook some credit for that eventual customer engagement.
In theory, it sounds good. We all know that clicks can be gamed. But at least clicks are a straightforward measure. Microsoft is vague about what exactly its unit of engagement will be—some combination of “the impact that recency, frequency, size and ad format (such as rich media and video) have on a consumer’s online path to action.”
It sounds complicated. Why not just measure the action you want the ad to trigger? Charging advertisers for engagement is certainly the right direction, but advertisers need to know what they are buying. In practice, measuring “engagement” may be nothing more than a way to justify the value of under-performing ads. “See, that Facebook ad actually worked—three weeks later.”
In the end, it doesn’t really matter what tortuous path a customer takes before deciding to buy something. Either Microsoft’s advertising platform will produce a better return on investment than the competition (Google) or it won’t. Advertisers won’t care how it does it. They will just care whether Microsoft’s ads measure up to Google’s.