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Advertisers who judge the success of their online campaigns on click-through rates are doing it wrong, Facebook head of measurement and insights Brad Smallwood told attendees of IAB MIXX, an ad-focused conference taking place in New York.

The social network now insists that the impression, not the click, is what matters, meaning that online ad campaigns should be designed and judged more like traditional television spots.

The assertion comes from a Facebook study conducted with Datalogix, a partner helping the company make the connection between online ads and in-store purchases for its advertisers. The study employed a controversial new Datalogix tool that matches purchase data from retailer loyalty programs to Facebook accounts in aggregate, and analyzed the performance of more than 50 digital campaigns.

“99 percent of sales generated from online branding ad campaigns were from people that saw, but did not interact with, ads,” as recounted in a Facebook blog post. The finding is “proof that it is the delivery of the marketing message to the right consumer, not the click, that creates real value for brand advertisers,” the company said.

The study, first revealed by Smallwood Monday morning, found that online marketers who maximize the reach of and nail down the right frequency for their messages will significantly improve their return on investment.

Brand campaigns that maximized reach had, on average, 70 percent higher return on investment, according to the study. Those that reallocated high frequency impressions to folks seeing too few impressions would notice a 40 percent uptick in ROI, Facebook and Datalogix found.

The findings are extremely favorable for Facebook, which is often criticized for low click-through rates. Whether the message resonates with marketers remains to be seen — the social network already faces an advertiser education challenge. The company is providing customers with Datalogix-powered insights for campaigns to help drive the point home.

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