I was talking with one of our marketing people the other day about radio, web, and what power (if any) there is in simply “being seen”. Is a campaign successful purely if it, on paper, reaches the target audience? Or is some sort of interaction mandatory before raising your brand’s flag and claiming victory?

Being purely online, I see a level of engagement as the only measure of success, however I forget that traditional media have never had this luxury. The marketing person I was discussing this with was running through a radio campaign that had, on paper, “reached 35%” of our target demographic. I asked for proof, of which none could be provided because it is all based on a sample of 2000 people in the radio network’s broadcast area. 2000 people whose data is extrapolated to the n &supth; degree, whose choices, likes and dislikes are then sold to advertisers as the habits of the nation. All the while nobody talking about the elephant in the corner, nobody being willing to say our demo doesn’t actually listen to radio anymore.

I set about de-constructing the numbers, trying to get a solid idea on what our CPA (cost-per-acquisition) was. I’m not going to go ito too much detail, but broadly speaking, I could have wandered university campuses around the country and handed out six-packs of beer and achieved a similar outcome; this does not get chalked up as a win in my book.

I forget though that the accountability inherent in an online platform can be frightening to people from traditional media backgrounds; putting a price tag on each person reached by that campaign is scary for the folk I work with as it only serves to highlight inefficiencies in our marketing practices. And because it so quickly reveals the flaws, people are quick to judge, become defensive, and bury their heads even further into the sand while the digital steamroller edges ever closer.

As marketers we should be embracing hard numbers, even if most people went into marketing so they could avoid math. We should be taking closer, more scrutinised looks at ourselves and learning from our mistakes. That’s easy for me to say when my preferred medium lays it all bare anyway, but to run from our ability to know more about our audience, their habits and how they think and transfer that into flawlessly executed campaigns is tantamount to admitting defeat, hanging up our BlackBerrys and going off to work at an organic farm, longing for simpler, easier times.

I’ve never thought it enough just to be seen, but there’s an increasingly short shelf life looming for anyone who does.