Click-through rates for the best performing creative are almost always lower than for the worst performing, a new US study has found.

Not only does that indicate that the click-through rate (CTRs) is a blunt instrument to measure creative, it suggests it can be positively misleading.

Rethinking Creative Measurement (pdf), a study carried out by the online ad-management company Flashtalking, looked at over 60 campaigns and compared the top 25% performing creative executions with the bottom 25%. It discovered that the best 25% were on average around seven times more effective than those in the bottom quartile.

But when researchers then compared the click-through rates of these two groups, they found they were “negatively correlated”.

“Creatives in the top quartile had an average click-through rate that was less than half of those in the bottom (.007% vs .017%),” the study reports.

“Click-through rates for the top quartile were almost always lower. In cases where they did have a higher CTR, the difference was usually quite small—supporting the thesis that CTR and creative performance are negatively correlated.”

The authors point out that digital creative has until now received little attention in terms of measurement and analytics, and what analysis there has been has focused on media/audience performance, “leaving most advertisers still relying on outdated response metrics for creative (ie click-through rates)”.

The report says the danger of relying on CTR is that it assumes that unless an ad is clicked, it has no impact.

“In doing so, CTR fails to represent how ads inform and create awareness among consumers — paving the way for consumers to convert at a later date. It also treats all clicks the same—even accidental or low-quality clicks.

“Further, CTR fails to account for audience or media bias—the quality of a media placement or the responsiveness of an audience will influence the click-through rate of a creative regardless of that creative’s quality.”

Flashtalking’s research used a metric it developed itself called the Creative Performance Index (CPI), which measures the effectiveness with which each campaign delivers its objectives.

This involves measuring each ad by its ability to influence conversions in proportion to the total number of impressions served. This was across more than 60 campaigns this year.

“The study comprised over 10 billion impressions served on behalf of 24 advertisers; covering the travel, media, telco, gaming, consumer services and energy sectors. For all advertisers, a conversion was defined as either a purchase or an indication of intent to purchase (e.g. configurating a car for an auto advertiser),” the authors said.

Sourced from Flashtalking; additional content by WARC staff