Why the Great GRP Debate Means Even More to Online Politicos

The Gross Rating Point is the ad buying benchmark for TV and other traditional media, so it’s no wonder that every once in a while online media consultants and sellers revisit the great GRP debate. The unanswered questions remain as fresh and relevant as ever – perhaps more so for the political market than any other. The reason: Traditional political consultants believe GRPs move poll numbers, and they directly correlate the two when buying TV. The debate lies not only in whether to connect online ad buys to GRPs, but in how.

“If I’m talking to a TV consultant, I’m going to talk in GRPs,” said Rena Shapiro, AOL’s director of political and issue advocacy accounts. “It depends on where you’re entering the conversation,” she added, suggesting that political consultants with a better understanding of the Web and more experience running online campaigns do not need to have online ad offers put in GRP terms.

AOL is one of many firms that has conjured up its own online answer to television’s GRP. The company recently developed a proprietary method of translating offline GRPs to digital media, according to Shapiro. “My goal is to make it as simple as possible for somebody to buy online,” she said.

“Because the purchase of gross rating points has been historically tied to movements in polling data, in political circles, it’s more of a touchstone for the political consultant,” said Chris Nolan, co-founder of San Francisco-based Spot-on.com, a political content firm that also provides online media services to political campaigns.

In an effort to respond to the GRP-based needs of political media consultants, Washington, D.C.-based digital political shop, Engage, developed its own answer to the GRP – the Online Ratings Point. The firm’s equation divides the number of ad impressions by the number of unique visitors targeted, then multiplies that by 100 to determine the number of ORPs.

Patrick Ruffini, a partner at Engage, argued that the standard methods of buying and selling online ads, such as CPM, CPC, or share of voice, “don’t do a very good job of answering the fundamental questions: how many voters does this let me reach and how many times will they see my ad?”

When introducing the ORP on the company’s blog in August, he continued, “When you’ve bought 1,000 ‘points’ on TV, that means that the average viewer has seen at least part of your ad ten times…Similarly, 1,000 points online ensures that your target audience will be exposed to your ad online an average of 10 times.”

“It is important to have something that is sort of on the same plane,” Ruffini told ClickZ News, noting that the firm has started to employ the metric as a way to demonstrate how online ads can help campaigns recruit volunteers, raise money, and move votes.

While Nolan’s Spot-on has come up with its own metric to help determine the degree to which an online ad campaign influenced voters, she said, “It may be that we don’t come up with a single cross-the-web-metric.”

For Michael Bassik, SVP digital strategy at political communications firm Global Strategy Group, the GRP debate – including efforts to tie online impressions to GRPs – is premature. “It doesn’t matter online – whether or not we’re selling CPM, CPA, or GRP…unless we can tie that directly to the effectiveness of the medium,” he said. “What we need to establish is how online advertising correlates to established metrics of political persuasion, including favorability, name recognition, and intent to vote.”

His firm did that recently in a study conducted for California Attorney General candidate Chris Kelly, which was intended to show that online ads run in conjunction with TV ads boost favorability and other standard political polling numbers more than TV ads alone.

Bassik concluded, “We need to conduct more research before we can say with any certainty that a certain number of ad impressions is equal to a certain number of Gross Rating Points.”

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