billboards-impressionsAs advertisers, too often we are tasked with creating campaigns that simply need to "be seen by as many people as possible." The success of the creative product is being measured by the amount of impressions garnered, when in reality the amount of impressions often has little to do with the quality of the creative and more to do with the size of a client's media budget.

It’s time to stop focusing on creating campaigns that drive impressions, and instead push our creative teams to create ideas that encourage action. From Facebook posts to Tumblr sites to TV commercials to billboards — no idea is too small or too large to encourage action and create digital participation.

So why an action over an impression? Let's examine both.

An impression is something you see — a billboard, a Facebook ad, or a branded logo on a football field. You may just see it for a split second. You probably don’t think twice about it, unless it is very good. You may, even less likely, tell a friend about it — if you did, kudos to the fantastic creative team behind the campaign, but this doesn’t help anyone measure its success. If you give a friend a glowing recommendation about an impression, that recommendation cannot be tracked, and there is no way of controlling the key message you are getting across to your friend—the bit about the brand or product that may be most relevant to her.

And beyond that, how do you share an impression? How do you pass it on? You can’t easily. And that becomes a problem.

An action, however, is something you see with a simple and clear mechanic that allows you to participate. Your participation with the ad leaves a digital footprint that your friends can see, so that they can go ahead and take action. And better yet, the advertiser walks away with success that is measurable and with many more earned impressions for the price of one.

Any idea or tactic, big or small, can drive action. It’s thinking about creating a Facebook post that will encourage people to share it, not just see it. It’s about creating a Tumblr site instead of just a static website to encourage easy re-blogging of content. It’s thinking about the digital footprint that will result in the participation — the Facebook share copy or the Twitter retweet — and making sure it both tells the campaign story, but also is able to hook the next person who sees the digital footprint to engage with it and create another action.

For example, in Kansas City, Mo., a program called MindDrive figured out how to combat rising high school dropout rates by creating a program that taught students how to create electric cars. This program worked, but nobody outside of Kanas City knew about it. Instead of simply creating ads to spread the message, MindDrive created an experience that the whole world could participate in.

Kanas City students drove their electric car to Washington D.C. to talk to Congress members about MindDrive. The only hitch was that for the car to work it needed to be powered by “social fuel,” AKA tweets and Facebook posts of support that would keep the car moving. Instead of just pushing the message, people had to participate with the message for it to move. And every time someone participated, he or she left a digital footprint, a tweet or Facebook post that their friends could see to learn about MindDrive and then participate with the campaign themselves. Thus, creating even more action, and many more impressions.

A few years ago in Germany, a pet food company wanted to build brand awareness. Instead of just plastering billboards around the city for people to see, it created billboards that encouraged people to check-in on Foursquare and in return, a dog food sample would spill out of the billboard for a pup to enjoy. The Foursquare check-in resulted in a branded digital footprint that could both be tracked, but even better, could be seen by the person's Foursquare friends — significantly extending the reach of the billboard and of the brand.

Creating campaigns that drive action isn’t just about being able to track success or earn more split-second impressions for the price of one. It’s about executing on ideas people can participate with, and creating experiences that will result in truly lasting impressions.

Originally published Aug 8, 2014 3:00:00 AM, updated December 02 2014