Major advertising trade groups have come together again - this time in the hopes of standardizing online ad measurement with a look ahead to cross-media measurement. As with the industry's behavioral ad privacy program, the mission is no cakewalk.
The Association of National Advertisers, Interactive Advertising Bureau, and American Association of Advertising Agencies have released a set of principles for digital measurement they will apply to a more detailed implementation plan expected at the end of the summer. In addition to the three lead groups, the "Making Measurement Make Sense" initiative is being developed in conjunction with management consulting firm Bain & Company and strategic advisory company MediaLink LLC, 40 industry execs, along with the Online Publishers Association and Newspaper Association of America.
How to measure online ad impressions has been a constant point of contention among advertisers, publishers, ad servers and measurement firms - and two of the five principles deal specifically with ad impressions. In particular, the coalition wants the industry to focus on "viewable impressions," or ads that are actually seen by a user, rather than measuring all impressions even if users don't bother to scroll down to see them.
The idea is to count only real exposures of ads online. Tracking viewable impressions is feasible, but the devil is in the details: What percentage of an ad must be visible for it to be considered a viewable impression? How long would it take to implement such a requirement across the ad ecosystem? These are questions the coalition is pondering.
Perhaps an even more complicated undertaking is developing an industry-wide standardized methodology for measuring audience impressions. The online ad industry has long grappled with the reality of media planning, which revolves around television GRPs. Through its call to devise a standard audience impression metric, the organizations are coming to grips with this reality, recognizing the need to measure audience impressions rather than server ad impressions.
"We're not saying, 'Lets go to GRPs, and the world has never changed, and we're advertising Tide on soap operas," said Sherrill Mane, SVP, Industry Services for the IAB. Mane stressed the need to couple the call for audience impression metrics - which is especially important for brand advertisers - with a means of gauging interactivity with those ad impressions. "We recognize that we must come up with appropriate metrics and measurement systems for how interactivity contributes to brand building," she said.
"It is really important to understand that even if the industry goes into a GRP metric based on the old ways of doing things, it is only to facilitate cross-platform measurement and evaluation," and to alleviate discrepancies among the array of proprietary metrics used to measure GRPs across platforms by agencies and media firms, said Mane.
The collective working on the project does not include top online measurement firms like comScore, Nielsen, and Quantcast; however those companies have been briefed on the mission and are considered stakeholders. The group also intends to put a governance panel in place to set standards and manage industry-wide structural changes.
Also included in the five-point plan: ad classification standards. Rather than prescribing specific names for ad formats, the idea is to develop a broad system for classifying yet-to-be-designed formats. In part, a common classification structure is intended to help advertisers and publishers better assess the value of ads.
The other two principles go hand-in-hand with the aforementioned principles. The group aims to identify interaction metrics that are genuinely relevant to brand advertisers, suggesting that outside of click-throughs, there are few metrics that allow for reliable cross-site comparisons. In addition, the metrics and methodologies produced by the initiative must apply to cross media platform planning, buying, and evaluation.
The coalition expects to have a plan for implementation of defined measurement principles by the end of the summer.
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Kate Kaye was Managing Editor at ClickZ News until October 2012. As a daily reporter and editor for the original news source, she covered beats including digital political campaigns and government regulation of the online ad industry. Kate is the author of Campaign '08: A Turning Point for Digital Media, the only book focused on the paid digital media efforts of the 2008 presidential campaigns. Kate created ClickZ's Politics & Advocacy section, and is the primary contributor to the one-of-a-kind section. She began reporting on the interactive ad industry in 1999 and has spoken at several events and in interviews for television, radio, print, and digital media outlets. You can follow Kate on Twitter at @LowbrowKate.