An article that has received a good deal of attention, from yesterday's NY Times, is "How Effective Is This Ad, in Real Numbers? Beats Me." The piece cites marketers' inability to determine which of their ads/campaigns are actually effective and delivering the best ROI.
Yesterday I participated in a meeting hosted by SEM firm iCrossing for its clients. I was there to present on Local Search. During the day-long meeting there were some very strong presentations, including by Frank Lee of Yahoo! Search Marketing and Brian Sevy of ClickPath, that essentially answered the questions in the article.
The technology and methodologies to determine real ROI and ad performance already exist; it's just a question of marketers adopting them and developing greater sophistication about their overall strategies.
Frank Lee talked, among other things, about how search can partly be used to track the performance of TV/online display ad campaigns and how marketers need to take a broader and closer look at how search can be better leveraged and integrated into the overall marketing mix.
At general advertising conferences search is often "ghettoized" or treated as a silo or separate (and threatening) animal. The reality is that search marketing is a valuable adjunct to traditional advertising. (This leads into a lengthy discussion, which I'll avoid here.) And the majority of marketers don't think about using it as a tracking/performance-measurement tool for the rest of the campaign.
Brian Sevy talked about using calls/800 numbers to close the loop between online and offline campaigns and to track ad performance (whether on billboards, print, the Internet) — and gave a demo that offered mind-boggling precision.
Marketers need to leverage the Internet, 800 numbers and related tools as part of a holistic strategy that takes advantage of the existing technology, which can today answer marketers' questions about ad effectiveness.
But do they really want to know? That's another question entirely.