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Summary:

When it comes to the gap between the amount large brand advertisers spend offline compared to offline, the usual answer is that there aren’t…

Measurement
photo: social media today

When it comes to the gap between the amount large brand advertisers spend offline compared to offline, the usual answer is that there aren’t any simple agreed-upon ways of measuring penetration with online ads, in the way that you can with, say, TV ratings. What needs to happen to make marketers place greater faith and money in online advertising? The Interactive Advertising Bureau has come up with a new list of five “digital measurement principles.”

It’s easy to feel jaded by the issuance of yet another set of industry principles. But while things won’t change tomorrow or next week or even next month, this latest step could eventually be more meaningful over the next six months. In essence, the principles are not pie-in-the-sky wishful thinking, but reflect wider steps taken by all parts of the industry.

There is more general agreement now than in recent years about the value of what a basic set of measurements should look like. Plus, measurement companies, like Nielsen, comScore (NSDQ: SCOR), Kantar and others have been moving closer toward capturing a seamless set of online and offline audience ratings and data points.

Furthermore, within the past two years, display formats have evolved from the kind of “click here now” direct response formats to more engaging and creative interactive ads. The IAB has also streamlined the number of ad forms for display and has given its imprimatur to several “rising star” formats, which will provide the kind of uniformity that a 30-second spot or a back-page magazine cover provides. In the past, online sites were made up of a farrago of ad units, forcing agencies and marketers to recreate the same ad for each site — a costly and time consuming process. Now that that problem has largely been addressed, developing principles behind the measuring these basic ad units should be easier.

The principles themselves are pretty broad and are anodyne in nature (who’s going to make a serious argument against counting “viewable impressions?”). But online advertising remains much more complex than traditional media, given that the systems in place at marketers, agencies and publishers are still geared toward traditional models of buying and selling media. So consider these principles a clear step in the right direction and reflection of the evolution currently taking place.

The IAB worked with the 4A’s, which represents ad agencies, and the Association of National Advertisers, on the project, but the actual principles were crafted by Bain & Company and media consultants MediaLink.

Here they are:

Principle #1 – Move to a “viewable impressions” standard.

What does it matter if an ad is “served” to a site if it isn’t viewed? Unlike TV, the web has the ability to measure whether an ad was viewed, and sites should offer that as part of a set of measurement standards for the industry.

Principle #2 – Online advertising must switch to a currency based on audience impressions, not gross ad impressions.

At a time when marketers are buying “audiences” instead of titles, the current digital currency makes it extremely difficult to gauge success. The idea here is that if marketers were better able to understand how many people in their target audience are being reached by a campaign — and how frequently they are being reached — they’d be more apt to spend more online.

Principle #3 – Because all ad units are not created equal, the industry must create a better classification system.

TV has the 30-second spot and magazines have the full-page back cover. But digital has myriad ad units. A better classification system would create a set of accepted units and describe them in plain English. While some ads do have better descriptives attached to them– like “pulldowns” or “pushdowns” — others are still referred to as 300 x 250 or 300 x 600, which isn’t as much help to marketers who are dealing with the compexity of creating and measuring ad units across websites.

Principle #4 – Determine interactivity metrics “that matter” for brand marketers, so that marketers can better evaluate online’s contribution to brand building.

Currently, the industry is awash in digital interaction metrics. However, these metrics are not necessarily relevant for brand marketers. Aside from click-throughs, there are few standards for enabling reliable comparison across sites.

Principle #5 – Digital media measurement must become increasingly comparable and integrated with other media.

Marketers are increasingly calling for ad agencies to tear down the barriers between traditional formats like TV and print and digital. They want to be able to go to one place to make buys across all those platforms — and then see how those campaigns are performing against each other. So it makes sense that how a campaign performs in its online vs linear forms has to become easier to evaluate.

  1. If you want to compare online against tv, then use the same apples to apples measurement systems.  Can you imagine if instead of Dart/Atlas we used Comscore to post a campaign (for payment).  Well that is TV (Nielsen).  I’d like to see what agency would go for that…

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  2. Contrary to the mass psychosis and industry lunacy that suggests otherwise, this is not a problem of measurement.  Indeed, measurement is more typically where you turn your attention when you have nothing new or worthwhile to say in the first place.  That the IAB has now published a new list of digital measurement principles merely makes it official.

    The simple fact is that digital branding budgets remain a miserly fraction of their TV counterparts because digital has consistently failed to deliver scalable reach, the only non-discretionary line item in any big brand awareness spend, and the singular reason why TV CPMs continue to rise while digital CPMs continue to tank (despite the rapid erosion of TV reach in recent years, and despite the equally rapid explosion of digital inventory).

    George Bernard Shaw once remarked that all professions are conspiracies against the laity (he’d likely go bad ass all over the IAB and the current crop of self-professed marketing experts, few of whom can distinguish their own brands, let alone someone else’s).  Marketing metrics are a scam; they never describe what works as much as they describe what can be sold.  The IAB is proof enough.Contact me if you haven’t already ceded common sense to your smart phone, and we’ll talk it over…

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  3. The obsession with measurement harkens back to historical meaning. In Sanskrit, the root “measure” meant “illusion”. Online media pundits have contributed to the problem by making things more complex, which is only partly their goal.

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  4. I’m all for improving digital media, but I think the IAB is barking up the wrong tree. The only proposal here that really makes sense is moving to a measure impressions in a live window, excluding way below the fold and off-screen (garbage) impressions. Here is my view on the other elements of the proposal:

    #2 Audience Impressions. This is pandering to the data companies that are now major influencers of the IAB. Data is far from perfect, here are a couple highlights from my BlueKai profile:
    Age 50-59 (I’m in my 30’s!)
    Location: Washington DC (I’m in Portland, Oregon area and haven’t been to DC, even an airport, in more than 5 years, never with my current laptop)
    Movie Goer: Haven’t been in 3+ years and I don’t even read about entertainment
    iPhone User: I have never owned an iPhone or seriously considered purchasing one

    If buying an audience is critical, marketers can purchase directly on demographic or behavioral data points. But with the current state of audience data, this needs to be a choice, not a standard.

    #3 We have a classification system, with TOO MANY options, and publishers regularly create their own in an effort to differentiate. It is worth noting that TV, print and other markets are going through the same thing right now, it isn’t just a 15, 30 and 60, with product placement, sponsorship and various overlay and integrated placement.

    Second, if the lack of standardized names is killing this market, every digital media planner should be fired. It is their job to see through this (and it isn’t rocket science folks).

    #4. Interactivity metrics that matter? I thought the problem was that digital wasn’t comparable enough to print, TV and other channels? Why is a core principle to create another non-comparable (and standard across clients to the point it likely doesn’t actually meet any real client need)? Opportunities to measure interactivity are a good thing, but standardizing on a metric that works for everyone will quickly degenerate to the point where it works for no one.

    #5 Better comparison across channels will be helpful, but not at the expense of good measurement options. Today, there are challenges comparing across any two channels, impressions (or points, …) in one channel are not the same as an another. Sure, lets strive to improve, but different channels are apples and oranges, measurement will not be apples to apples.

    — @wittlake

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