Are GRPs Enough in the Age of Consumer Control?

Cincinnati Bell has a ubiquitous ad campaign touting integrated phone services. It features the tagline, “You add, we subtract.” This got me thinking about media planning and accountability in the age of consumer control.

Media planners are always looking to add or optimize media impressions. But what if we could subtract from results any negative consumer-generated media (CGM) linked to specific brand tactics and dish out compensation accordingly?

What if we had the equivalent of negative GRPs (define)?

GRPs basically equal the percentage reach times frequency. They’re used to determine the saturation level of a particular campaign. The more GRPs, the heavier the ad campaign. Agencies, media buyers, even PR firms are typically rewarded based on achieving ideal GRP levels, which theoretically correlate to purchase behavior.

In today’s fragmented, topsy-turvy media environment, is “buying against the plan” enough? Let’s measure and reward plans as they play out in the buzz-rich middle ground between advertising and actual purchase. A natural byproduct of both on- and offline advertising is consumer conversation. Imagine how the game would change if standard media buys were offset with discounted buys based on the tone and velocity of quantifiable online conversation.

The result would be a new standard combining GRP input with CGM output. Everyone would be more accountable, because brand stakeholders would have a more transparent scorecard against which to evaluate brand decisions. Agencies would have a harder time hiding from bad decisions. Suppliers would have tangible reminders of their mistakes. Media researchers would have to own up to bad assumptions or sloppy research. Brands would have better data for key decision making.

Quantifying Brand Conversation

What consumers publicly say, whisper, or shout about brands is a highly measurable transaction, not unlike a click, a page view, a search query, or an actual purchase. And consumer expression venues — boards, forums, review and ratings sites, and especially blogs — are growing exponentially.

Perseus estimates over 50 million blogs by year’s end. Our firm estimates nearly 1.3 billion CGM contributions by the same time. Such numbers trivialize the size of standard research panels. If prompted focus groups can drive critical brand investment decisions, why can’t the digital audit of millions of unaided brand narratives?

Consumers rarely talk in a vacuum. When they talk about brands, directly or indirectly, they either give credit or assign blame to a product experience or brand event. During and after the Super Bowl, the Web was bloated with consumer conversations about all aspects of the ads, and the manner in which consumers related to those products. And just about every episode of “The Apprentice” triggers online buzz, good and bad, regarding those very expensive product placements.

Imagine a retooled GRP model. Why should media buyers get full credit for achieving GRP targets if 70 percent of consumer-generated buzz on blogs and boards is negative or outright hostile? Deeper examination might reveal consumers felt an ad campaign set ridiculously high expectations. High frequency levels only made it worse.

Here’s how I’d recalibrate CGMs:

Scenario Effect on GRP Weights
A blogger trashes an ad campaign. Modest subtraction
A negative brand comment ranks first on Google. High subtraction
A popular blogger trashes the brand because the product fails. Medium subtraction
The same blogger documents anger with a photo or video. High subtraction
Fan creates a unique product video that spreads virally. High addition
There’s an extended favorable thread on a popular message board. Medium to high addition

Would This Fly on Madison Avenue?

This could be a tough sell, especially if the old adage “Success has a thousand mothers; failure is an orphan” holds true. One former colleague noted, “It takes 10 ‘atta boys’ to make up for one ‘oh sh*t.'” Who wants to count the latter?

Indeed, negative ratings points would allow us to measure when an initial negative reaction turns counterproductive, when a microsecond of attention becomes 10 seconds of tangible, reproducible disappointment.

If we did adopt such a standard, we’d see some immediate behavioral changes. First, everyone would become far more consumer centric. The stakes would be too high not to be. Other outcomes include:

  • Agency coordination. Ad, PR, and media agencies would dramatically increase cooperation. Everyone loses if the consumer megaphone booms negativity.
  • Consumer affairs as reward broker. Agencies would really care about customer service. They couldn’t afford consumer venom eroding their GRP reward structure. Imagine Starcom/MediaVest or Omnicom OMD folks camping next to the toll-free lines, even shifting media dollars to this arena.
  • Brand/product claims. Brand managers will exercise more caution in pushing ad agencies to oversell indefensible product benefits because they, too, will be held more accountable for negative consumer backlash.

If the consumer’s truly in control, we must retool the advertising reward structure to factor in how the collective consumer voice talks about our brands. The great news is we’ll become better, more accountable marketers in the process.

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