No Country For Last-Click Attribution


ADOTAS – It’s known for its Biblical depiction of good, evil and great cinematography. But there’s a scene in the Coen brothers’ 2009 Academy Award-winning film “No Country for Old Men” that parallels digital marketing.

It’s near the beginning. The villain, Anton Chigurh (Javier Bardem) walks into a deserted South Texas filling station and asks the proprietor to call a coin flip. The proprietor is understandably terrified. Chigurh asks the proprietor to guess the year of the coin before he flips it.

Chigurh says, “1958. It’s been traveling twenty-two years to get here. And now it’s here. And it’s either heads or tails. And you have to say. Call it.”

Just like that coin, the journey consumers take before they click the final “submit” or “purchase” button has its origination a long time before. While many analysts and agencies focus on “last click” attribution as the most important event in this journey, new research suggests that another event, or groups of events, may be even more important. That event is the origination or, if you will, when the coin was minted.

A recent scouring of 50,000 online transactions from a subset of C3 Metrics clients sought to determine the source of origination for each of those transactions. The results: In 44% of all online transactions for our clients using attribution in connection with media buying, display advertising was the channel that initially drove awareness and, ultimately, a conversion. Not search. While many companies focus on the last click, it is quite possible that the most important click is being overlooked.

The data underscores the critical role that display advertising plays in driving initial interest and hidden value of beginning and mid-funnel tactics, which drive incremental revenue in an era when Wall Street is looking for more. But this report is surprising. It clearly shows that when used correctly with a tool that attributes the entire path back to origination, display advertising is the first step on the road to success.

The sales funnel starts with display ads and gets pushed further down into the revenue funnel by effective display ads. If advertisers understand this attribution and measure it effectively, they will have increased revenue and more conversions at the bottom of the sales funnel.

Obviously, it’s a lot more work than a coin flip. Online advertising for today’s smartest companies is a calculated series of decisions that considers search, display, mobile and video. You don’t have to be a complete villain like Anton Chigurh to consider the cosmic weight of how this decision came to you. Just consider that the origination of the decision is as important to you as it is to your destiny.


  1. I think the real value of the data presented in this article is that it proves the “funnel” or “purchase process” concept is real. After all, if 44% can be traced back to display ads, it suggests 56% of funnel activity originated somewhere else — or, those consumers entered the funnels later.

    In any event, this is why advertisers should always fill in the purchase process “backwards,” by asking these questions: (A) What are your prospects doing when they form final intent? (B) What are they doing when they perform research? (C) Where are they when they just started to feel a need? (D) Is it feasible (and worthwhile) to try to initiate the process?

    More often than not, the answers to these questions are:
    (A) on the website
    (B) on a search engine
    (C) exposed to display ads, radio, TV, and print
    (D) probably not

    When tasked with improving a client’s advertising efforts at Gonzberg Agency, we find that among other unique variables, there are two issues that come up again and again: 1) the client is not present in all the phases of the “funnel,” therefore losing a high number of prospects in the process, and 2) lack of consistent messaging in the process (with a promise and a proof that makes sense to the target).

    Advertisers who take a hard look at items 1 and 2 above will almost certainly see an uptick in sales.

    Evan Berglund
    Gonzberg Agency

  2. How do you expect us to take you (or your company) seriously when you claim that 44% of online transactions originate from a display ad? It doesn’t even pass the sniff test of credibility, even using the highly questionable “view through” as a metric.

  3. An excellent movie, and an interesting point. Last-click attribution completely misses the contribution of other ad impressions that occurred before that last impression was shown – including the originating impression. Effectively managing online advertising campaigns is certainly more complicated than a coin toss, which is exactly why multi-touch attribution analytics are necessary to track “the journey consumers take” before that final click. Check out our post The Attribution Problem for more on the drawbacks to the current last-touch attribution system and how sketchy vendors are able to game it.


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