Rachel Smith

Earlier this year we saw the IAB put their head over the parapet, calling out digital advertisers for an over-reliance on flawed campaign metrics in their infamous ‘don’t be a clickhead’ campaign¹. The open-letter addressed a strong distaste to the overemphasis on click-through-rates (CTRs), flagging it as a problematic and short-sighted measure of engagement. 

The degradation of a metric so ingrained into the digital advertising ecosystem raised many questions regarding best practice in campaign measurement and got a lot of people asking “what actually is engagement?”

A strong consumer-brand relationship is at the core of every successful business and must be nurtured through engaging with the consumer. Consumer engagement, even in its more casual form such as ‘liking’ a social media post, is indicative of a positive outcome for brands, as engaged customers are the most likely to become loyal and paying customers. This is arguably beginner-level stuff and so every advertiser already knows that it’s essential to measure campaign engagement. What is less known, is exactly how engagement should be measured. 

At Adludio, the marriage of our creative and proprietary tech facilitates a highly sophisticated engagement model which allows us to measure genuine user-initiated engagement. Therefore, we wanted to give our two cents on this discussion and provide a no-BS account of what the valid measures of engagement actually are.



At the inception of a potential user engagement sequence, an ad must be viewable to inspire any future effect. In accordance with IAB guidelines, viewability requires a minimum of 1-second visibility of 50% of the ad unit². These viewable impressions indicate reach, however they tell us absolutely nothing about how consumers respond to the ad, e.g whether they actually internalised the message or how they might behave after exposure. 



The user journey becomes much more transparent when user-engagement metrics are employed. Click-through-rate (CTR) has long been the gold standard engagement metric due to its compatibility with programmatic advertising and the digestible figures it generates - which are practical for impressing clients. CTRs operate on the premise that clicks translate as the user expressing further interest in the brand.

However, the big problem with CTRs is that they don’t tell the full story about why a user has clicked on the ad and what happened after they clicked. There is also no way of knowing whether the user intentionally clicked on the ad or whether they had, in fact, expressed a negative opinion by trying to close it. This uncertainty about the validity of clicks is a big issue and is exacerbated by the instances of ad fraud that can fraudulently boost CTR.

It’s fair to say that we think the legacy of CTR has gone on too long. As the IAB points out, it’s important to understand the context for where the hype originated. The world’s first-ever clickable banner ad, deployed by AT&T, achieved a whopping 44% CTR. Understandably, advertisers were led to believe that audiences were very open to clicking on ads and this metric quickly gained popularity.  The reality was that the high CTR was mostly owing to the novelty of the ad, which stood out like a sore thumb amongst a barren digital landscape. 

Fast-forward to a quarter of a century later, the combination of a graffiti-like ad landscape and ‘digital wokeness’ has contributed to an industry standard of a 0.35% CTR³. Nowadays, it is extremely unlikely that anyone would conform to clicking on the dubious-looking the banner ad below. 


So what actually is engagement and how should we measure it?

Many brands believe that a positive mention on social media, a retweet, time spent dwelling with an ad and the sale of a product or service, are all better indicators of brand engagement than CTR⁴. The ability to quantify true engagement is paramount because engagement is arguably the most indicative metric that a consumer will remember your ad. In a overpopulated digital landscape, it is nearly impossible for anyone to absorb ad information if they only scroll past it. However, when a user engages with an ad, it provides the rich contextual cues needed to encode information into the memory, which assists later recall. 

With the high-value of engagement considered, the transition to robust programmatic engagement metrics is vital for informing the success of the campaign, in terms of both the effectiveness of the creative and the influence it has on the audience. At Adludio our unique engagement model generates both high and valid engagement ratings that are much more informative than the conjecture produced from a click. We believe the best way to measure engagement with an ad is to measure VTR (completed video views) and physical engagements with interactive ads. 

VTR is a fantastic measure of engagement because it can quantify whether the user considers an ad worthwhile of donating their valuable time. This is particularly significant in an age of  ‘zombie-scrolling’ where many ads are scrolled past at a velocity that doesn’t provide sufficient time to absorb the ad information. Last year Procter & Gamble cut $200 million from its social media budget after finding that Facebook users were only watching the company’s ads for an average of 1.7 seconds⁵. This is a key problem when users are faced with a sea of content to consume. When measuring VTR, we can confidently assume that users who do commit to watching a video ad are genuinely interested and engaged users.

Interactive rich media ads are arguably the most facilitating ad format for measuring engagement. For context, interactive ads provide fun tactile opportunities for the user to engage with the ad, such as ‘swipe’ and ‘press and hold’ elements - check out the ad below which used our ‘scrub’ feature.  Not only is the novelty of these interactive ads more interesting, but they also create ‘super impressions’ whereby brands gain an additional 30 seconds with the consumers after the ad is shown⁶. Because our ads require users to opt-in to initiate the interactive storytelling, any engagement recorded is all completely purposeful and captures a highly engaged audience.  

When we use metrics such as VTR, physical engagement and other call-to-actions such as the add to calendar function, for example, we can gain a more complete picture of the overall user journey. These are true engagement metrics and are much more effective than CTR for establishing a high-level understanding of campaign success and user engagement. This is not to say that CTR doesn’t have a place, because we think it still has its relevance, but our take-home message is as follows: when measuring engagement, you can include CTR, but don’t make it your goal and focus much more on other valid and genuine measures of engagement. 

If you want to learn more about how to improve your engagement metrics, drop us an email at hello@adludio.com and we’ll show you how to ensure your user-engagement is absolutely authentic!