Marketing Ad Spend Adtech

Not all impressions are equal: the one thing marketers forget about paid ads

By Jack Brown | Head of Paid Media



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January 19, 2023 | 8 min read

Paid media is seemingly all about impressions, but marketers should take them with a pinch of salt, says Jack Brown of Hallam.

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Paid advertising isn't all about clicks / 43 Clicks North via Unsplash

Impressions: a metric that has always been measured, reported on and discussed within all corners of marketing, especially paid advertising. It’s, quite simply, the number of times your ad has been seen. But it can also be the root of many issues if we’re looking at it in isolation.

Impressions aren’t the most useful metric when it comes to sales activity, but can be a wonderful gauge of the quality and strength of your creative, be it in the in the form of ad copy, imagery for a display ad, or even video assets.

Impressions tend to be pulled out most often when we’re talking about how to effectively measure brand awareness. Nowadays there are so many options for paid advertisers when it comes to which channel to invest budget into with the goal of driving brand awareness. But if we look at three examples, we can see there’s a clear difference in cost. So, where should we spend our budget?

Google Display

Display advertising is great; it can be activated through standard platforms like Google Ads, or purchased programmatically through a demand-side platform (DSP). Either way, the main benefit of display advertising is huge reach at low costs.

The average cost per mille (CPM) for a Google Display advert is around $3.12. So, for just over $3 you can have your ad seen by a thousand people when using Google Display. A big issue more recently with Google Display has been a surge in poor quality traffic, combined with weaker targeting options when compared to alternatives.

YouTube Ads

Recently, we've seen a shift, with advertisers choosing to spend their brand awareness budget with a big move away from Google Display. YouTube advertising has emerged as a great alternative that still offers great reach at a low cost, with an average CPM of between $5 and $20, dependent on targeting.

Connected TV

One of the newer advances in brand awareness-focused advertising comes in the form of CTV (connected TV) which offers the ability to programmatically purchase placements in the ad breaks of digitally streaming TV shows.

With streaming platforms like Sky AdSmart and ITVPlayer offering these options, and Netflix announcing their ad supported platform to launch shortly, it’s likely that a lot of brands and advertisers will be weighing up their options.

So, which is best?

Like all paid advertising, which channel looks best often comes down to the metric you use to measure. With impressions and reach being the focus, CPM tends to be the go-to number to decide where to spend your precious budget.

If this is how you’re deciding on where to allocate spend, you’ll be looking at the poor-quality targeting and high levels of low-quality traffic that Google Display has to offer. If you go based on the volume of impressions you’re able to drive, it’s likely that YouTube or Netflix are the winners.

Not all impressions are equal

All of these methods of measurement forget one thing: user intent. Inpaid advertising it’s easy to focus on numbers and forget what's involved in increasing those figures. This is why not all impressions are equal; a user that’s mindlessly scrolling on their phone and happens to see your ad on Facebook is not worth the same to your business as someone listening to a playlist on Spotify that hears an ad between songs.

When allocating budget, it’s important to judge impressions based on the setting in which they’re delivered.

Display or social ads delivered on a small percentage of the screen surrounded by other information are likely not going to get a huge amount of attention (unless your creative is truly unique and standout). Meanwhile, when you test budget on a platform like YouTube Ads or Spotify, you might see much higher costs when it comes to the volume of impressions.

A key strength of a platform like Spotify is that users are deeply engaged. A user listening to their favorite playlist on Spotify likely has their headphones in, and the entire outside world blocked out. They’re immersed in the sound without distractions. When one song ends and your ad begins to play, if your creative is engaging (not intrusive or immersion-breaking) the user will continue to listen with significant intent.

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Scope out your ad placements first-hand

Put yourself in the user's position, and imagine the setting in which your ad is going to be displayed.

Do a bit of hands-on research, go and visit the sites that you’re targeting, and browse some articles. See where your ad will appear and how stand-out the ads you see are against the background of the site. This is the only way to truly understand the value of the impression you’re bidding for. It can bring much more to the table than a simple CPM battle or looking at the placement that will give you the highest volume.

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