Can digital and TV data crunchers ever find a common language?
A sense of urgency around the need to bring the two sides closer was on display at a recent ARF conference, but a broadly accepted lexicon appears elusive for now.
How do marketers equate a widely used but broadly defined TV metric like C7 — the ratings for average commercial minutes in live programming plus DVR playback out to seven days — with a more narrowly defined pillar of digital measurement like a “view”?
Stumped? So, too, it seems are the numerous data scientists and researchers who attended the Advertising Research Foundation’s recent Audience Measurement 2017 conference. It was also clear at the Jersey City, NJ, gathering that many are feeling pressure to come up with a solution sooner rather than later. Why? Because consumers’ viewing habits are shifting at an alarmingly fast pace toward watching content on demand when and wherever they want. As a result, brand marketers are more confused than ever over how effective their advertising dollars are — not a good state to be in when company leaders are insisting on verified results.
"Brands are demanding transparency without knowing how to get it," Laura Lewellyn, senior director of marketing innovation at Lotame, told Marketing Dive. "It is incumbent on researchers to provide the way."
Lack of standardization
In the past, those who measured and gleaned insights from consumers' TV viewing habits often operated separately from the creative side of advertising. In digital marketing, the sheer wealth of data available and the ease with which it can be gathered has put the science of ad creation on a more level footing with design and copywriting. At the same time, because digital marketing has grown so quickly over the past 15 years, there is often a stunning lack of standardization within the channel in how ads are assessed.
“We are striving for the data purist’s MRC view. That is where we would like to be, getting everyone to align with what that definition is."
Group VP of commercial insights and digital at Discovery Communications
The metric that the digital side appears to be moving towards as a baseline is a “view” as defined by Media Rating Council, which is that 50% of pixels are in view for at least one second. There are issues with this approach and not all players believe this is the right way to go, but brands like P&G and publishers are pressuring digital platforms like Facebook to move this way.
“We are striving for the data purist’s MRC view,” said Manu Singh, group VP of commercial insights and digital at Discovery Communications, during a session on unifying TV and digital reach. “That is where we would like to be, getting everyone to align with what that definition is.”
Despite the fact that omnichannel marketing has been a buzzword for years and overtures at greater collaboration between TV and digital are being made, a widely accepted method for measuring an ad's performance across channels remains elusive. This situation might have persisted were it not for several recent developments.
The first is that TV and digital spending have reached relative parity. Some reports suggest digital surpassed TV for the first time late last year, but with some softness apparent on each side this year, it is not clear which is in the lead at the moment. Either way, digital is no longer the up-and-comer deserving of some leeway as tries to mature.
Change the view
A second development is the fragmentation of the viewing experience, a problem that has been brewing for a few years as Netflix, Amazon and other streaming services grow, but which appears to have reached a tipping point. Bloomberg recently reported that cable networks are likely to report their first decline in advertising since 2010 this year because advertisers are fed up with rates that have risen 20% over the past several years at the same time that TV ratings dropped 33%, meaning brands are paying more but getting smaller audiences.
“We only make change in measurement when a gun is held to our heads. That gun right now is lowering ratings."
Director of implementation research and marketplace analytics at GroupM
Digital’s growing importance begs a unified way to measure how ads are viewed across channels, but some TV folks appear stuck to C7 and other legacy metrics.
“We only make change in measurement when a gun is held to our heads,” said Ed Gaffney, director of implementation research and marketplace analytics at GroupM, during a session at the ARF conference. “That gun right now is lowering ratings.”
The final development is that overall brands are paying more attention to the accuracy and meaning behind the data they receive following a series of metrics flubs revealed by Facebook over the past year and P&G’s Chief Brand Officer Marc Pritchard’s demand for greater transparency.
A common refrain in Jersey City was that there are significant challenges to be overcome if a cohesive picture of ad spend is to emerge. Some, like Discovery Communications’ Singh, are optimistic that a more unified view is possible.
“We are going to see a standard currency that everyone is going to agree to,” Singh told the audience for the unifying TV and digital session. “There will be third party signals we are all comfortable with but there will also be first party signals for customization. That’s the world we are getting into.”
However, the consensus seemed to be that a solution is not likely this year or possibly even next year. Instead, this is something the industry needs to work towards.
At the same time, there are advances being made separately within the domains of TV and digital that have the potential to elevate channel-based strategies but don't necessarily bring the two sides closer together.
For one, programmatic TV had a bigger presence at ARF's Audience Measurement conference this year than in previous years, underscoring brands’ desire to be more targeted in their buys.
“Most people would agree that we need more precision for a video view than the average minute approach over seven days,” said George Ivie, CEO and executive director at Media Rating Council, during a session.
On the digital side, various players are looking at how data can be more accurate, transparent and scalable.
Lotame’s Lewellyn called out the bigger presence of ad tech companies at the event compared with a few years ago. This points to technology’s promise of efficiently merging different datasets so as to connect online impressions to an individual's offline behavior, an approach often referred to as people-based marketing.
"People-based marketing is the new version of omnichannel marketing," Lewellyn told Marketing Dive. "It is the ability to resolve who you have reached down to an individual level when going through a DMP.
"This means you can start thinking about messaging frequency and capping as well as purposefully retargeting," she added. "The trick is to really make it work."
As data crunching becomes automated through DMPs and ad-buying goes through a similar process with DSPs, some small studies are being scaled up to fit a broad strategy, which can muddy the picture, per Lewellyn. Rather than trying to fit methodology to technology, some are looking at ways to scale up measurement methodology. One such company is Survata, which works with online publishers to validate their segmented audiences by leveraging surveys and control groups created from programmatic platforms.
Navigating the fog
While data experts simultaneously pursue a cross-channel solution and address channel-specific challenges, confusion is likely to continue for marketers.
“If we’re still doing C7 in 10 years, then we need to be shot,” GroupM’s Gaffney said. “If we can, we need to say, here’s where we can be in a year, which will help us out and give everybody time to manage that change.”
The key for brands hoping to navigate through the fog of multiple solutions and a lack of transparency is being open to change, Gaffney later said.
“Don’t’ be tied to legacy business. It is all going to change, if you are stuck in that legacy business, you are going to be in trouble,” he insisted.