IAB: 5 Changes That Would Get Brand Advertisers To Spend More Online

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.