GRPs, TRPs, Reach, and Frequency… Oh My!

So the chorus grows, with more and more voices joining in to sing the praises of applying traditional media measures and currency to the universe of online media. Tenors and baritones croon of audience and GRPs (gross rating points) while altos and sopranos intone the celestial tunes called ad effectiveness and brand attitude.

There’s no doubt about it, we are on the verge of a new, Copernican worldview; we are turning away from a page-view- and click-through-centric world and toward some of the measures found useful by our media forefathers in the offline world. Odd that something “revolutionary” might actually be a turning back — an undoing of the present rather than the past.

So what shape is this undoing of the impression- and click-centric view of online media currency going to take?

Media planning and buying traditionally look at three groups. First, there is the planning target, something like, say, women who are pregnant for the first time or have children under the age of 2 and have been online in the last 30 days. Then there is the buying target, which is the demographic representation of the planning target — women aged 18-34. Then you have the strategic target, arguably the most important, which would be women aged 18-34 who are pregnant for the first time or have children under the age of 2 and have been online in the last 30 days. This is where the circles of the Venn diagram would intersect.

The communications impact of media plans has traditionally been expressed as a function of reach and frequency, measured against either the buying target or the strategic target (e.g., “I reached x percent of my target y number of times with the media employed.”). In broadcast, it takes a healthy mix of mathematics and voodoo to accomplish a reach/frequency measurement against the strategic target. It is done from time to time in print, because one can look at respondent data for media usage from syndicated research sources (such as Simmons or MRI) and cross-tabulate it against other factors, such as demographics and product usage. That is much more difficult to do for broadcast (though it can be done with the proper adjustment factors and mojo).

The truth of the matter is that reach and frequency are poor surrogates for projecting or determining the efficacy of one’s media efforts. The more important consideration is the psychographic, not the demographic. I want to speak to all cheese eaters if I’m selling cheese (or coffee drinkers if I’m selling coffee). Not just cheese eaters who are men aged 25-54. If you are interested in widgets, I want to get a chance to talk to you about widgets.

But that is not how media is currently bought and sold. It is impossible, for the time being, not only to buy broadcast this way but also to plan it this way. I mean, think about it. That’s why it’s called broadcast — to cast broadly. You don’t use TV to target home-office radiologists with red hair and clubbed feet.

When talking about trade advertising, which is what business-to-business (B2B) buys would largely be, the unit of trade is going to be different. The efficacy will be determined, pro forma, by things such as circulation CPMs (cost per thousands), since most trade advertising is done in print.

All of this assumes you are buying other than against direct-response metrics.

The average rep for CNET would not be able to sell something like a GRP package. Unless the advertisers that CNET is talking to have experience doing larger scale marketing, the client isn’t going to know much about GRPs/TRPs (targeted rating points) or reach and frequency, either. Or if they do, they aren’t going to care. That isn’t to say it wouldn’t be worth having such expressions of communication value, it just isn’t reasonable to expect it from print. The Web, however, does allow for being able to express communications value in terms of GRPs/TRPs. The problem is that it might not be made to lay flush with other media efforts.

For regular, nontrade, consumer advertisers, however, expressing online communications value in terms that traditional brand managers understand and can look at holistically with the other media efforts underway would be a major boon.

The audience/GRP/TRP quest does not seek to supplant all other forms of conducting media business. But it is a major step toward getting the Internet/Web to take its rightful place among other media as a valuable and effective advertising vehicle.

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