State of Measurement Today
Say it with me - there is no solution for true cross-platform measurement. Marketers and media owners alike have clamored for such a solution since we realized a 5” phone screen was becoming as valuable as a 60” TV screen for reaching consumers. And measurement providers have bent over backwards throwing the kitchen sink at this challenge - panels, bigger panels, big data, set-top box data, anonymous data, pseudo-anonymous data, cookies, MAIDs, SDKs, you name it. All in an effort to produce numbers which somewhat realistically report the total unique reach (and frequency of exposure) of either an ad campaign or a piece of content. And they all come up short for a variety of reasons, largely out of the control of the measurement providers.
I have spent most of the past 12 years with an intense focus on all aspects of marketing measurement. Asked to sum up the state of measurement today, I don’t know if the better analogy is a hamster spinning in a wheel getting nowhere, or Sisyphus pushing the boulder up a hill indefinitely. The point is, for all of the would-be progress, we keep putting more obstacles in our own way. That’s not to say we have not made leaps forward. For the first time ever we can know discreetly how many of our ads are served to humans vs bots, how many actually come into a viewable space on a screen, and how many are in “brand safe” environments. But try measuring the actual reach and frequency of a brand’s campaign and - good luck! Audience measurement today is no better nor worse than it has been for many years, and it’s time for a fundamental change in how we think about it.
Our obsession with trying to develop a single view of audience reach and frequency across many different platforms is also costing more traditional media owners (think broadcast networks) by continuing to handcuff them to legacy, failing forms of measurement. On the flip side, newer forms of media (think walled gardens and social platforms) are not only NOT held accountable to legacy measurement, they essentially create their own standard - and marketers accept that! No wonder ad dollars keep shifting to these walled gardens - the results always look so appealing.
So, instead of continuing to chase the elusive whale that is cross-platform measurement, what can media buyers and sellers do to begin revolutionizing audience measurement in a way that causes all boats to rise? The answer is to focus on the principles of good audience measurement and to implement an open, universal, participatory set of assets which supports these principles.
Specifically, audience measurement fundamentally requires two things - accurate counting of people, and accurate assignment of descriptors about those people (demographics, behaviors, etc). As we look at today’s media landscape, ask yourself, who (what entity) is best suited to count the people exposed to ads or content on a given platform? I would suggest, and much of today’s measurement would confirm, that given the addressable nature of much of today’s media it is the media platforms themselves. There’s certainly still a role for an auditor like the MRC to ensure all platforms have an accurate and acceptable means to do the counting, but don’t you think NBCU or Google or Amazon or Hulu can likely better count their audience than a third party? This would eliminate a lot of the friction in trying to implement one all encompassing solution across all platforms and properties.
Assuming platform owners do their people counting correctly, the other challenge is accurate assignment of descriptors. Again, the addressable nature of most media today makes this a more solvable challenge than in the past. At Truthset, our focus on measuring the accuracy of the world's people data has led to an incredible asset. We have high fidelity knowledge as to the accurate descriptors for almost 1 billion digital identitiesin the US. We are fueling accurate audience measurement by enabling buyers and sellers of media to match addressable audience IDs to our spine of audience information. Our solution offers more granularity and reporting of various audience descriptors (well beyond age and gender) than all legacy measurement.
All parts of the media ecosystem - buyers, sellers, data providers, etc - will benefit by moving to a more accurate solution for measuring audience performance. Buyers want to know what they are getting, and sellers want to receive appropriate value for the audiences they deliver. If all we do is attempt to solve the cross-platform reach/frequency question, we will miss huge opportunities to better understand and monetize today’s addressable advertising market.