| HBS Working Paper Series
Do Display Ads Influence Search?: Attribution and Dynamics in Online Advertising
As firms increasingly rely on online media to acquire consumers, marketing managers feel comfortable justifying higher online marketing spend by referring to online metrics such as click-through rate (CTR) and cost per acquisition (CPA). However, these standard online advertising metrics are plagued with attribution problems and do not account for dynamics. These issues can easily lead firms to overspend on some actions and thus waste money, and/or underspend in others, leaving money on the table.
We develop a multivariate time series model to investigate the interaction between paid search and display ads, and calibrate the model using data from a large commercial bank that uses online ads to acquire new checking account customers. We find that display ads significantly increase search conversion. Both search and display ads also exhibit significant dynamics that improve their effectiveness and ROI over time. Finally, in addition to increasing search conversion, display ad exposure also increases search clicks, thereby increasing search advertising costs. After accounting for these three effects, we find that each $1 invested in display and search leads to a return of $1.24 for display and $1.75 for search ads, which contrasts sharply with the estimated returns based on standard metrics. We use these results to show how optimal budget allocation may shift dramatically after accounting for attribution and dynamics. Although display benefits from attribution, the strong dynamic effects of search call for an increase in search advertising budget share by up to 36% in our empirical context.