How to quantify the value of new marketing tools

Wall-E scoots onto the computer screen, stares out and raps on it until it shatters (it’s quickly repaired by another robot). Your computer has just been taken over by a boutique website developed by Deadline Advertising, working in concert with Amazon.com and Disney, to promote the Blu-ray release of the animated hit.

Breaking through Internet clutter is the name of the game as the studios work with interactive creative agencies and rich-media ad servers to create Web banners, microsites, mobile messaging and widgets for Facebook and MySpace. And the reward of winning that game can be profitability.

But is Internet marketing a burst of digital confetti or does it translate into measurable ROI? Looking at the big picture, one thing is clear: More people are seeing more online video. According to comScore, U.S. Internet users viewed 14.8 billion online videos in January 2009, a steady rise from 2008.

Contrary to common belief, measuring the success of digital marketing isn’t about the number of click-throughs. “That was great in the early days, because that was all banner ads could do,” notes Eyeblaster digital experience strategist Dean Donaldson. “It was ingrained in people’s minds that clicks were the answer to measurability in the online world. But clicks have been in steady decline since their inception.”

Measuring the impact of online marketing has become much more sophisticated. Google director of media and entertainment Adam Stewart points to a study by survey-based market research company Ipsos that exposed a test group to Internet ads for a TV show; the control group was not so exposed. “When the test group was asked about their likelihood to view the show, we saw a significant increase,” Stewart says. “Through digital marketing, you get increased engagement.”

Nielsen Online VP of media and analytics Jon Gibs agrees that online video has changed the equation for marketing. “Studios can start with a teaser and move into a broader campaign, letting people watch four- or five-minute trailers they couldn’t watch on TV,” he says. Online advertising also allows a higher level of advertising frequency than is possible on TV, he adds. “You can show a given person 20 or 30 advertising units in a single day in a way that wouldn’t be feasible on air and wouldn’t be possible within a magazine or newspaper.”

There are hundreds of millions of people in the online video space — so “it only makes sense for TV and movie promoters to get in front of those very valuable eyes,” says Chad Cooper, VP at online video site aggregator OVGuide.com.

“Given the rise of social media, … promoters (can use the online space) to find the audiences they seek and capture data at a level that isn’t possible with traditional media, like levels of interaction — trailer views, engagements, etc.,” he adds. “Plus advertisers are able to better get a grasp on how their audiences interacted with various types of creative as well as newer forms and levels of advertising.”

To determine what to track, studios work closely with two types of partners: the interactive creative agencies like Deadline Advertising, AvatarLabs, Trigger and the Visionaire Group, to mention a few, and third-party ad servers such as Eyeblaster, DoubleClick and PointRoll.

“There are hundreds of metrics in our system,” Donaldson notes. “The key is pulling out the ones relevant to the campaign.”

“For ads, it’s interaction time, what’s downloaded, how many videos are watched,” says AvatarLabs executive creative director-CEO Rex Cook, whose company is working on a microsite within an ad for “Star Trek.”

Trigger founder/creative executive director Jason Yim notes that for iPhone apps and the newly launching world of BlackBerry apps, his studio clients follow not just high download numbers but user ratings on the iPhone app store.

Deadline Advertising director of business development Corey Weiss reports that his company worked with Amazon and Disney to implement tracking for the “Wall-E” Blu-ray campaign. From the beginning, click-throughs were less important than “sharing” or social media. “Ultimately, it was to create awareness,” says Weiss, who notes the viewer could send the site to a friend.

As social media has soared on the Internet, it has also risen to prominence as an crucial way to build digital marketing campaigns. Users have grown accustomed to sharing content with friends and putting links on their website, Facebook page or other online locations.

“Web 2.0 is all about talking to your friends,” says Donaldson. “That’s key for entertainment clients because you go to the cinema with your friends.” Traditional word of mouth couldn’t be easily tracked. Now — as users share a trailer with friends or post it on MySpace — it can. “For the first time in history, we’re able to track word of mouth marketing, which is incredibly powerful,” he says.

If social media is too fuzzy a metric for hardcore bean-counters, Nielsen Online’s Gibs has a simple answer. “The ability to serve somebody a five-minute-long preview has a minuscule cost compared to buying media on TV or outdoors,” he says. “The ROI is fairly clear.”

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