Measurement, we’ve come a long way. Just 10 years ago, I was a manager in the “interactive marketing” department of a major real estate brand. Our marketing team as a whole employed 30 to 40 professionals, of which just a small handful worked with me in digital.
As at any major consumer brand at the time, those of us on the digital team wanted a bigger slice of the marketing budget pie. “More brand dollars need to shift to online media,” we said. “Consumers are using DVRs to skip television commercials. Print is declining as people spend more time online. Statistics show listeners are migrating from terrestrial to satellite radio.”
All of these were good arguments at the time. But then we dropped the hammer. “The most important reason to put more money into online media is real and accurate measurement.”
We preached the power of digital measurement. No more panels. No more extrapolations from limited data sets. From now on, our advertising dollars would be spent on real impressions.
How times have changed.
The controversy over digital impressions
There are a two things we didn’t quite understand 10 years ago. First, there is a major difference between a served impression and a viewable impression. Just because an ad server delivered an ad to a web page, it doesn’t mean someone had the opportunity to see it.
For all the flaws of panel-based measurement in traditional media, at least it was delivering numbers on ads that consumers had the option to view or hear before fast-forwarding on a DVR, turning a page or muting the radio. In digital, impressions were being counted for ads that often loaded below the field of view or never fully loaded at all as consumers quickly hopped from site to site.
Second, senior brand markets didn’t care about impressions. They needed metrics that were comparable to what they were getting for existing media. The gross rating point (GRP) wasn’t perfect, but everyone knew what it meant.
CMOs didn’t want to make ad buys based on impressions. They wanted ad buys based on audiences. And most important, they needed brand metrics that matter if they were going to be convinced to move ad dollars into an unproven medium.
Fast-forward to 2011. My employer, the IAB (Interactive Advertising Bureau), along with the ANA (Association of National Advertisers) and the 4A’s (American Association of Advertising Agencies), began a joint initiative titled Making Measurement Make Sense (3MS). Its overall goal is to change the way digital media is measured, planned, and transacted across the ad industry to make it a more valuable medium for everyone in brand advertising.
The Media Rating Council (MRC) would later manage 3MS as they set and implement measurement standards. The work of the MRC under 3MS led to the most radical change in the buying and selling of digital media — transacting on the viewable impression.
It’s now been two years since the MRC gave the green light for viewable transacting in display advertising, and last summer they released their final Mobile Viewable Impression Measurement Guidelines. So we’re all done, right?
No. In many ways, we’re just getting started.
The viewable impression was never intended to be a final output of 3MS. It’s a necessary step to put digital media on equal footing with traditional media by ensuring all impressions have the opportunity to be seen. And it’s a necessary step for bigger and better things to come.
With the viewable impression now established, the MRC and 3MS can turn their attention toward comparable cross-platform measurement. For the first time, brands will be able to evaluate digital and television media buys on equal footing.
And just as important, the viewable impression lays the foundation for digital metrics that matter to marketers — solutions that will measure the total effectiveness of brand advertising across all screens.
So buckle your seatbelts. Viewability may be our biggest stop yet on the road to better measurement, but the best is yet to come, and the ride will most certainly be worth it.
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