Online Media Needs Innovation, Not a TV Standard

This is my opinion about the recent IAB, ANA and 4A’s principles for online measurement. If you don’t like rants, or think the advertising associations can do no wrong, stop reading and go back to Lycos. Otherwise, read on and share your reactions in the comments below.

The IAB, ANA and 4A’s recently outlined five measurement principles as part of Making Measurement Make Sense. The objectives, outlined below, are admirable:

  • Define transparent, standardized and consistent metrics and measurement systems to simplify the planning, buying and selling of digital media in a cross-platform environment.
  • Drive industry consensus around a solution.
  • Establish a governance model to support ongoing standards development, manage change and ensure compliance.

The problem is, as someone that has spent the last ten years (gulp) in this industry, the principles and their intended impact are mostly nonsense.

Principle #1 – Move to a viewable impressions standard

I will applaud this, it is an update to the original impression definition discussions that simply wasn’t technically feasible at the time. However, the fact that “often, ad units are not in a viewable space to the end-user” stems from publishers and networks pushing impressions, not looking to deliver valuable media inventory.

A viewable impression standard will address the specific problem that shady industry players have created. But simplifying planning and buying will require addressing the source of the problem, not merely their tactic du jour.

Principle #2 – Move to an audience impression currency

This principle is full of issues, and would actually be moving the online industry backwards. Consider this:

  • Most magazines and newspapers do not sell on an audience impression basis. This is an attempt to match the TV market, not to facilitate cross-media standards.
  • No other medium can significantly reduce out-of-target delivery. 100 GRPs against a narrow target audience in print or TV also delivers significant reach to additional audiences. Remove this additional reach and any comparison of media weights are no longer apples-to-apples.
  • Demographics are a coarse measurement, every channel can do much better. If you are targeting expectant mothers and households with infants, one million impressions on BabyCenter.com are far more valuable than one million impressions to women age 25 to 34 purchased across a network or exchanges.

If the audience measurement companies step forward with lower cost solutions to measure audience impressions, it will be a valuable outcome. But demographics should not be the currency in a market that should be differentiating itself on the ability to target beyond simple demographics.

Principle #3 – Create a transparent classification system for ad units

The IAB has already created, and revised multiple times, a list of standard ad units. The proliferation of ad units is driven by publishers attempts to give advertisers an opportunity to stand out and this is not unique to online. The Wall Street Journal offers dozens of different print units, many in both color and black and white. TV planning is also becoming more complex, not simpler.

If planners can effectively plan cross-channel when online is limited to 300×250 and 728×90 sizes but cannot handle the variety of ad units we have today, we need new training programs and new planners, not a new list of ad units.

Principle #4 – Determine interactivity “metrics that matter” to improve evaluation of branding efforts

Yes, we have a hodgepodge of interactivity metrics today. But standardizing on metrics that work for everyone will just create another click rate, a metric whose only value is its standardization and that does not represent a meaningful measurement for anyone.

The solution is for marketers to take ownership of their own metrics, working with a third party to ensure consistent apples-to-apples interactivity measurement that is specific to their campaign needs. Marketers establish their own measurement goals and frameworks for websites, they should not turn that task over to the industry and publishers for media programs.

Principle #5 – Make digital media measurement increasingly comparable and integrated with other media

Comparing TV, print and online is like comparing apples, oranges and bananas. Comparable metrics like calories and ounces completely miss the defining characteristics of each.

The principles even reflect this conflict! With the creation of interactivity metrics in Principle Four, they are introducing key metrics that are specific to online, without corollaries in other channels.

Every channel has its unique strengths and attributes. When we standardize planning and measurement across channels, rather than improve the processes within each channel, the differences and opportunities in each channel are stripped away in search of the least common denominator.

Creating a marketing strategy and channel plan is not like creating a Whopper. Not everyone can do it, and more importantly, not everyone should.

Your turn. Does this type of standardization water down online marketing opportunities? If the industry meets these principles, will your key pain points be addressed and will the industry be significantly improved? Share your opinion in the comments below or with me on Twitter.

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