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Wow…! Based on the readership and responses to my last blog post – I suppose it would be an understatement to say there’s a heated debate brewing in traditional media metrics for the web. Perhaps calling out the naysayers as arrogant, ignorant and afraid just added fuel to an already raging fire. There’s a raw nerve that’s struck with this topic that still eludes me. Many counter-arguments were raised with varying levels of venom, all valid, but most still missing the point. Allow me to make another attempt to categorize and answer some of the new issues raised and perhaps we can turn this fire into something a bit more productive.
First off, we’ll do everyone a favor by separating the two primary drivers of ad effectiveness: quantity and quality. Both are essential to this exercise. If you had the greatest media in the world but it only reached five people, it won’t create much value. Likewise, if you delivered a ton of ads, but they aren’t impactful, you end up in a similar place. The quadrant we are all shooting for is profound effectiveness (quality) at massive scale (quantity). Traditional media metrics such as target reach, frequency and rating points are most definitely measures of quantity, not quality. But quantity is a useful place to start. Once we’ve established some common measures of quantity, the debate can ensue on the distinction and value of one rating point on TV, versus Print, versus Online, etc. So for now, let’s focus this discussion on the quantity side of the equation.
On commoditization: Traditional media metrics, almost by definition, attempts to put the media we buy and sell into a commoditized currency. We hear from traditional marketers that “digital is hard to buy” and that “it’s hard to know what you’re getting”. Our hypotheses is that if we can translate our media plans into metrics brand advertisers are familiar with, then digital will be easier to buy. Perhaps one of the reasons why this issue raises such intense vitriol is our human aversion to being “commoditized”. My recommendation – get over it. Don’t confuse “commoditization” to mean “cheapen”. When things become commodities they don’t lose value; they just shed their high costs of trade. In fact, when things become commoditized, they become available to more people and for more purposes.
On Equivalency: I know I said we’d focus on quantity, not quality, but this is where they often get muddled. So it’s worth stating again: I’m not suggesting, in any way, that a TV rating point is equivalent to an Online rating point. Ratings across channels don’t have to be equivalent to be useful. Case in point, there are vast differences in the price of ratings across and within channels. For example, you’ll pay much more for a point on Primetime TV than Late Night TV. We’ll see vast differences in online as well. Nothing about traditional media metrics precludes us from making an argument that a point of reach on MarthaStewart.com is more valuable than a point on a blind network, or an ad in the Sunday Paper. There’s still merit that a point of behaviorally targeted media is better than the same point on the homepage of Yahoo or on a billboard in Times Square. This exercise does not replace all the things that make us different, engaging and deserving of a premium online or offline.
On Truth: For some, the accepted standards of offline measurement are so deplorable that they’d rather have nothing to do with them at all. Yes, the panels are small and biased, and the diaries and surveys are ridiculous and outdated, fragmentation creates all kinds of blind spots, and cross channel duplication wreaks havoc on over-simplified assumptions. I agree with all of the criticism. What I don’t agree with is the conclusion that it’s all a waste of time. As profoundly flawed as those metrics and assumptions are, they are still predictive of sales. As long as analysts find correlations between GRPs and Sales, advertisers will try to optimize those underlying relationships. Not having those metrics simply means we’re left out of the analysis. That’s why the Web only garners 5% of brand advertiser budgets.
The mysterious part of this discussion is how easily the tone of this debate can become intensely anti-traditional media. The fact that we make such a grand distinction between online and offline media is somewhat of a shame. Advertisers don’t inherently care about the distinctions between traditional or non-traditional media. They just want it all to work together in order to maximize sales, and need simple ways to express what they’ve just bought. Bringing target reach, frequency and ratings to the Web won’t replace any of the specialness of digital. They only add information into the planning and post-campaign process that should have been there from the beginning.
I typically don’t raise such a fuss unless there’s an actionable punch-line and this is no exception. This topic is near and dear to me because it’s the focus of some of the latest R&D from the Atlas Institute, and the starting place for a new partnership between Microsoft and comScore. I know I haven’t addressed everyone’s concerns. But this is just the beginning of a long journey and the proof will be in the pudding. We are beginning trials to assess the impact of forecasting target reach, frequency and GRPs for digital campaigns and also producing post-campaign reporting based on the same server-panel combined methodology. I’ll spare you the details for now, but I hope our discussion continues, and I promise to share some of the results and insights from our pilots as they become available.
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Great follow-up on the first one covering this topic Young-Bean!
Having worked with digital media at one of the major FMCGs you mention I can really relate to what you write as I have experienced both of the traditional and digital "media worlds", but also the frustration of them not connecting or understanding each other.
Adding the traditional media metrics to the sophisticated "digital media only" ones we already have on the web is the way to go. That would be the tipping point to finally get these brand-building media dollars go online as well.