The Dreaded GRP

The advertising industry has a love/hate relationship with the gross rating point (GRP). On the one hand, it’s the currency of traditional media. On the other, it’s a thoroughly flawed metric that fails to capture the unique attributes of various media channels. Many in the digital world (myself included) have railed against adopting this dinosaur since the first video was streamed online. We’d all point to the fact that the GRP doesn’t account for interactivity; it doesn’t account for the fact that on-demand viewing is inherently more engaging than live/linear viewing; and perhaps most damning of all – why in the world would you want to use a proxy for performance when digital media affords direct census-level measurement?

Here’s the thing: it doesn’t matter; at least not yet.

I’m not saying that we were wrong to poke all those holes in the GRP methodology. In fact, I still believe that all of those things are true; and that’s just the tip of the iceberg. We could spill a lot more digital ink (pixels?) reviewing all of the problems with the GRP. But it won’t matter.


Because, by and large, today’s CMO doesn’t care. Seventy-plus years of econometric modeling tells the CMO that if she buys X GRPs on TV, she’ll get Y back in sales. It may not be perfect, but it’s the math that everyone agrees on. For all the strength of digital metrics, with the exception of those advertisers who sell their stuff directly online, we haven’t been able to create an industry-standard model that links exposure to sales.

So, as online video consumption continues to skyrocket – and consumers are favoring digital/on-demand sources over linear ones more and more, is it any wonder that there is suddenly renewed interest in adopting a digital GRP?

Now here’s the part that may be a surprise, coming from the digital guy that has spoken out against the GRP in the past: I’m in. Bring on the GRP I say.

Let me be clear: I’m not admitting defeat here. I haven’t had a change of heart and suddenly believe that the GRP is perfect. But it seems increasingly clear that we need a common currency across all video platforms in order to unlock the flow of dollars and create balance in terms of time spent and ad spend (which remains painfully out of whack for most digital video platforms). I’ve always believed (and continue to believe) that digital metrics will one day force the GRP to evolve. I had hoped it would have happened by now, but digital media is just too young. And in a grand irony, it now seems that we need the influx of big brand dollars (that can only come from a unified cross-channel language) in order to create a sufficiently scaled ecosystem that will finally drive toward that evolved and more advanced version of the GRP.

In other words, I’ve made peace with the fact that adopting the GRP for digital video is a critical step toward evolving the metric.

What does that mean, practically speaking? Are buyers at my company suddenly going to abandon impressions, clicks, and engagement in favor of rating points? Hardly. But we’re finding ways to translate impressions to GRPs and back again. We’re evaluating new tools from the likes of comScore and Nielsen (admirable first steps, but neither ready for prime time). We have reformed broadcast buyers in our ranks who are helping us to invent methodologies for creating that level playing field without losing the deep digital data that has long been in our DNA. In the near term, it means we’ll be talking GRPs alongside our traditional brethren while leveraging digital data behind the scenes, and at the same time endlessly experimenting to find a better way. In the mid- to long-term, it means we’ll have some proven models and solutions when the industry is finally ready to get serious about ending the love/hate relationship with the GRP in favor of something smarter and better aligned with digital video consumption (which, by the way, is how nearly all video will be consumed in the very near future).

So to the time-honored and seemingly unflappable GRP, I say welcome to the digital world. Just watch your back.

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