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Cause & Effect – Will marketers make Wanamaker right again with their undying reliance on last-click attribution?

Paul Otis
Nov 29, 2016

Everyone has heard John Wanamaker’s famous (and quite honestly tired) quote “Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is I don't know which half.” Many marketers and advertisers point to the progress we’ve made in ad tracking and now believe that the then prescient Wanamaker would be so happy in today’s “accountable” climate. But would he be?

It appears that even with big data and an array of tracking mechanisms, measurable media tools, and online and offline technology that many marketers, especially the local and regional ones, are just too busy to use the technology available to them. Worse yet, when measuring media cause and effect, they settle for the last click as the primary attribution.

As you probably know or can surmise, the last click refers to the model in which the last click is given 100% credit for a sale or a conversion. It tracks where the user last came from prior to clicking on a page, calling or filling out a form. But is this as accurate as we want to be? Mr. Wanamaker is likely turning in his grave.

MOB Media has always billed ourselves as an accountable ad agency. What that means to us is that any sustainable ad campaign must be optimizable, repeatable and trackable, and of course, effective. When clients tell us that they don't believe TV or radio or YouTube won't get them the traffic or leads they need, we immediately go to their attribution system. Guess what? The last click is the primary and oftentimes only means by which they are measuring success.

We’ve had clients tell us point blank that they know a particular media channel works, but then in reports to their CEOs and board members there’s a desolate spreadsheet for lead generation in that very same channel. I’ve even had clients tell me that they don’t pay attention to sourcing the dropdowns they created on their own website forms. If the last source was PPC, it's the reason for the form fill, whether or not the consumer dropped down and chose another medium. So why is this happening in today’s day and age?

Let’s see, whom to admonish first? Let’s start with the big one. The goliath. The $74.5 Billion Gorilla named Google. Every client, every marketer, almost everyone that has a website relies on Google Analytics (GA) for most, if not all, of their web analytics. Well, isn’t that nice! Like the fox protecting the henhouse, isn’t it? I mean, let’s face it, Google makes most of its money on search engine marketing (PPC). Isn’t it convenient that "Last Click Attribution" will most of the time come from the PPC media channel? Even Google itself tries to warn against choosing last click attribution unless “your paths to purchase are direct enough, that the default last-click approach may be the right choice”. When is the marketing world that simple? What about the cause and effect of branding, TV, radio, YouTube, print, out-of-home and so much more? The Last Click just means, that after Joe Consumer saw the required 3x frequency of my ads on TV and heard the radio commercial ample times he went online for a YouTube demonstration and then searched for my product on Google, found it in the search engine results page (SERP) and clicked on that ad. Yup, PPC was the reason Joe Consumer bought my product or visited my website. Sure it was.

The classic fallacy of correlation does not imply causation. Simply put, Google tracks the source of the traffic, not the cause of that traffic! Yet marketers knowingly use GA as their gold standard for tracking their media.

Another factor for this attribution marketing malaise is that the marketing directors and their people are too overwhelmed with data and exhaustive work to really try to sift through all that is available to them and so instead take the shortcuts mentioned above just to stay above water. Overworked and understaffed is often what we see with local and regional clients. But what makes them busier than ever when technology is supposed to make their jobs easier?

Well, I’ve written on one of those issues before – the silo mentality of hiring multiple agencies and services to handle their marketing. Without going over retread material, suffice it to say that most local and regional clients only need one ad agency (I would like to think MOB Media!) to holistically handle and be responsible for the entire advertising campaign. That way, the ad agency in question can be media agnostic as to what works, how it’s working and will utilize proper attribution models to highlight the benefits of other media channels that perhaps aren’t getting direct credit, but are affecting the overall increase in traffic, sales or leads.

So, giving 100% attribution to a PPC lead is, in my humble opinion, actually worse than not knowing where half of your ad expenditures have been wasted. Find a suitable attribution model that takes into account 3-4 sources and influencers. Better yet, find yourself a good ad agency and let them deal with it and report back to you and the board.

By the way, John Wanamaker is an interesting read. I encourage you to learn more about him. He was a pioneer in marketing especially on the retail level and is credited with first using a price tag. He also reformed the US Postal system and was president of the YMCA.


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