Is Online/Offline Integration Important?

Most people I know in the online advertising industry believe that integrating online and offline advertising metrics is critical to the future of the medium. They assume that for traditional advertisers to buy into online advertising, they need to be able to measure it side by side with television, print, and other media.

The metrics under discussion are used in planning, buying, and measuring the effectiveness of online advertising. Web advertising uses unique ways of measuring audiences and response, and since they don’t jive with traditional measures (such as reach, frequency, and gross rating points — or GRPs) it is hard to compare them, hence making the Web less useful — or at least less comfortable and familiar — as an advertising tool for established advertisers.

Last April, the New York New Media Association’s Research Special Interest Group (SIG), which I cochair, held a panel entitled “What Do Traditional Advertisers Want When Buying Media Online?” Panelists from Nabisco and Castrol, as well as from an ad agency and a Web publisher, explained the difficulty of translating the lexicon of clicks, impressions, and page views into the way established advertisers understand advertising objectives and success.

After April’s meeting, I wrote an article summarizing the panel’s main points — that online advertising is perceived as too complicated and unproven by traditional advertisers and as being hard to integrate with offline media.

Last week, I invited four online research experts — two from an agency, one from a publisher, and another who runs a research company — to discuss the issue further on another Research SIG panel. The panel was called “Apples to Apples: Comparing Online and Offline Media,” and I planned to talk about approaches to integrating ad metrics on and off the Internet.

I was in for a surprise. Instead of discussing how we can compare online advertising to TV, print, and other media, I found that two of the most outspoken panelists (both from the agencies) seemed to think that on- and offline advertising weren’t very comparable at all. What’s more, they seemed to think that the issue of integrating metrics was a red herring.

Setting the Web Up for Failure

Conventional wisdom says that to win a share of the huge budgets normally allocated for television, we need to find ways to use common metrics for evaluating the performance of the Web in comparison to other media.

The panelists disagreed. Trying to compare the Web to television is setting the Web up for failure, they argued. Until an online advertisement can make you laugh or put a tear in your eye like a good TV commercial, said one panelist, it will never generate the same enthusiasm among advertisers for brand building. The Web should develop its own metrics for the unique way it works.

The Web Is for “Hand-Raisers”

Taking the argument further, the panelists said that the Web fulfills completely different objectives than TV and print. Specifically, they said, the Web is best at reaching “hand-raisers” — people who have indicated brand interest or loyalty and are seeking to interact with the brand. As for generating awareness and interest in brands, they said, the Web plays second fiddle at best.

Get Our Own Metrics Right First

Planning and buying online media is a headache. Why not, some say, adopt the metrics of offline media? So instead of having to wade through an arcane system of unique visitors and impressions, buyers could use the measurement systems, such as GRPs, with which they are comfortable.

Wrong move, said one of the panelists. Since the Web is unique, it should have its own metrics. It makes more sense to get our own metrics (such as how to count an impression) down pat first, before trying to adopt those of other media.

It certainly was a lively evening. As the host and moderator, I decided it would be impolite to make any direct rebuttals. But I must say that I found some of the viewpoints to be a bit retrograde, especially in light of the overwhelming evidence of the power of the Web in building a brand.

At least everyone agrees upon one thing: Online strategies have to be designed to meet the specific objectives of advertisers. What is at issue is the range of objectives that the Web is capable of meeting.

It is interesting to compare April’s panel, made up of traditional advertisers, and last week’s panel, made up of those in the business of serving them. They were both panels of advertising professionals, but they seemed to come to opposite conclusions about the Web’s role and what’s needed to evolve it. As for whose point of view is more credible, I’ll let you decide.

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