Punching people with Nike knuckledusters.

And why not all attribution is equal.

Many years ago, in the earlier days of digital advertising, I was invited to YouTube’s offices to sit through a bunch of presentations and workshops. There was one in particular that has always stuck with me. It was a well-intentioned-but-perhaps-condescendingly-executed lecture on how advertising works, delivered by a bunch of people who’d never made an ad to a room full of people that do every day. Nonetheless, you always have to go into these things with an open mind because you might learn something. 

It was one of the first (but definitely not last) times I’d seen someone in digital media really drum home the ‘you have to show the logo before the skip button for brand attribution’ line. It was an absolute must. Best practice. Had to be done. You’d be an idiot not to, basically.

They kept using this phrase. ‘Brand attribution’. Even if they skip the ad ‘they’ll still attribute it to your brand if they see the logo’. Little importance placed on quality of creative, or messaging, or communication. Just get the logo in. Because ‘some attribution’ is ‘better than nothing’.

To me, there was no context in which any of this made sense. 

The question I asked was, ‘attributed to what?’

A blank stare, followed by ‘what do you mean?’

Again, ‘attributed to what? What am I attributing the brand to?’

More blank stares.

‘If all I’ve seen is a logo appear on something I don’t like interrupting what I do, what am I attributing the brand to other than a negative annoyance?’

One last blank stare, followed by ‘Well, that’s a good point, I guess we’ve never really thought of it that way.’

It was here I realised that ‘attribution’ didn’t really mean what attribution means, which the Oxford dictionary describes as ‘the action of regarding something as being caused by a person or thing’, it just meant ‘when someone sees a logo’. Interrupting someone’s cooking video with a logo is ‘attribution’. Punching them in the face with Nike knuckledusters is ‘attribution’. Driving a Ford Ranger through their lounge room and running over their cat is ‘attribution’.

The alarm bells that began ringing in my head haven’t stopped to this day. They’re still there. Just louder and coming from increasingly more directions. Because we’re still having this same conversation with media people and marketers everywhere.

In this context, attribution is not a solely quantifiable thing in and of itself. It’s a connector. What I attribute a brand to is a spectrum of positive and negative perceptions and experiences. Therefore, not all attribution is equal, and it’s time we stopped pretending that it is.

If I’m on YouTube, it means I’m trying to watch something, or learn something, I’m seeking out entertainment and engagement. I don’t want to watch an ad. I don’t want to be interrupted by a brand. This is the state every human is in when using social media. Or watching BVOD. Or playing a mobile game. I don’t want to see a logo. If I see a logo, I’m hitting skip. 

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not entirely opposed to introducing the brand early. In fact, if you can do it in service of a great idea, you probably should. But the branding has to appear in something someone actually wants to watch. But the big question we should be asking is:

Is it better to have a higher number of negative experiences attributed to your brand? Or an equal, or even lesser, number of positive experiences? 

What I mean by this, is should we be focusing on creating ads that people don’t want to skip or shoving logos in the ones that they will? Let’s be honest, it’s a no brainer. We should be creating ads that are so intriguing and curious that when branding does appear, pre or post skip button - it’s attributed to a positive experience. Sure, it might sometimes mean less eyeballs on that logo overall, but for those that show genuine interest in the brand (ie, the people who will actually buy from us) the outcome is positive.

It all goes back to the intent behind the work, which seems to be getting increasingly lost over time. We’ve become obsessed with pissing people off and hitting them with a logo bat. The intent of the work should be to connect, to entertain, to engage. The intent of the work should be to interest people. Because if you do that, it doesn’t matter at what second the logo appears. Put it wherever you want.

Shoving a logo in an ad that nobody wants to watch is not positive attribution. ‘Something is better than nothing’ should not be the bar. That is a bar lower than the Mariana Trench. That shouldn’t be somewhere you want your brand to end up.

Worry about making a good ad with the logo anywhere, not a shit one in the first five seconds. (Or that only goes for six.)


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