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Ghost ads monitor a control group of target consumers.

How Ghost Ads Can Help Prove the Incremental Revenue of Campaign Spend

September 5th, 2019   ||    by Charlene Weisler

It’s not enough for an ad to simply trigger a sale: Today’s marketers want to know which ad it was, and on which platform and network it was featured. Ghost ads are emerging as one of the most popular measurement solutions to monitor ad efficacy and efficiency.

These types of ads, introduced by Google in 2015, are now receiving more recognition by the industry at large for their use on Google and Facebook. As Google notes, “It’s difficult to know whether that marketing expenditure is making an impact . . . The pressure to prove value is all the more important because marketers know the budget for one campaign can often determine the investment for their next one.”

But what are ghost ads? And can brands really benefit from their use? Let’s take a look at how this form of advertising is being used by publishers today.

The Potential to Reach More Consumers

Ghost ads are essentially conversion lift tests which, as Shane O’Neill, director of content at Nanigans, explains, monitor a control group of target consumers and flag when a brand’s ad would have been served to a user in that group. An advertiser can then bid on that impression using a ghost ad, which is so named because it is invisible to the user. If the bid wins, the ad is fed to the control group.

This data can be seen by the advertiser and ad platform and is used to ascertain whether there is a difference in consumer behavior among those who have seen the ad versus those who did not see it. O’Neill concludes that ghost ads “create apples-to-apples comparisons of users who were exposed to ads versus users who would have been exposed to ads.”

Another Means to Measure Incrementality

The use of these ads to test consumer behavior answers a huge question for the advertiser: Did my campaign spend result in incremental revenue? Incrementality is “measuring the lift that advertising spend provides to the conversion rate of the target population,” explains Rick Bruner, vice chair for the U.S. at i-com.

“We’re good at targeting the people who are already most inclined to buy a product,” he continues. “So for the advertiser, the question then is: What effect did my ads have on that target audience above the rate at which they would have bought anyway, absent the advertising?”

Using these ads to measure incrementality is easy. An ad campaign is fed out to a group of targeted consumers while at the same time, a control group of consumers who would have normally been chosen to see that ad is shown the exact same message. Each group’s reactions to the ads are then tracked.

The data from each group can then be compared to identify which ad creative, publisher, platform, user behaviors, piece of content, scheduling, etc., are more likely to generate a winning bid and eventual purchase. This not only answers the incrementality question, this comparison also gleans information for attribution measurement—a win-win.

How Valuable Are Ghost Ads, Really?

In understanding which ads facilitated purchasing and increased revenue, advertisers will be better prepared to optimize their future campaigns. For researchers, these ads eliminate selection bias in the testing. Algorithms often target consumers who are the already the most likely to buy; with ghost ads, publishers discover if the consumer would have bought anyway—regardless of whether they saw the ad.

For advertisers, these ads are a cost-effective measurement tool that’s easy to implement and tracks near real time, putting us one step closer to knowing exactly when a consumer made the decision to buy.

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