The national TV market has been using a version of commercial ratings for several years now. It was a historic step when it started, but is it time for another big leap? Will the business move in this crazy, wacky direction that has advertisers paying based simply on how many people actually watched their specific spot?
Today’s C3 currency has buyers paying based on an average of all commercial minutes within a program (taking into account time-shifted viewing). So, that average could have marketers getting a bad deal based on how other ads perform – a matter beyond their control.
The Association of National Advertisers (ANA) is careful to say the prospect of a currency switch is up to the buyers and sellers and it is not lobbying for one. But pardon anyone for thinking it seems that way. The trade group touts the merits of what it calls “brand-specific commercial ratings,” with survey results showing 82% of its membership has an interest in the data and via other approaches.
“To me it’s the truth,” says Bill Duggan, ANA executive vice president.
Duggan has spearheaded ANA’s advocacy for more granular ratings, which was hammered home by CEO Bob Liodice at the recent Masters of Marketing event.
Next week, the ANA is convening a commercial ratings summit to delve deeper into the issue, where at least five measurement companies with brand-specific ratings capabilities – Rentrak, TRA, Simulmedia, PrecisionDemand and Nielsen – will present. The prospect of widespread true commercial ratings has been ushered in by the availability of set-top-box (STB) data that allows second-by-second tracking.
Another presenter, Media Rating Council executive director George Ivie, could tamp down some of the enthusiasm, however, by noting the importance of putting measurement products through a rigorous audit. And, STB-based systems can be thorny.
The ANA expects research executives from agencies, networks and trade organizations (such as the 4As and CAB) to attend. Duggan is hopeful the event will move the ball forward in the granular ratings field.
Even if real commercial ratings don’t form the basis for negotiations, they certainly could inform them. Which is why Duggan says he’ll be content if the data is available in an easily digestible form to help with media buying strategy.
“The more granular knowledge, the better and the more informed the marketer could be,” he says.
The research potential is immense, which gets Duggan going. He talks about “in-market copy testing,” offering the chance to run campaigns with different creative to get a sense which performs better. Second-by-second analysis could also allow, say, Pepsi to gain insight into how many people stop watching a spot once a celebrity disappears and a voiceover about a complicated promotion starts.
There’s the opportunity for more insight into pod positioning. It wouldn’t take the smartest Fortune 500 CMO to realize that a commercial's ratings could go down if it falls in the middle of a four-minute break. The data could also confirm to Johnson & Johnson that viewers are more likely to watch spots about acid-reflux treatments if they come after a pulsating movie trailer or hilarious beer spot. But, some patterns could emerge, for example, showing how much more valuable the last position in a break is for a show viewed via lots of DVRs.
Duggan adds that more granular data could help advertisers conduct a better analysis on the effectiveness of product placement and brand integration. Also “to know which networks are the stickiest for your individual brand.”
But even as the ANA pushes for the individual-spot ratings, agencies and networks may quietly be hoping the effort peters out. Agencies might not be thrilled with clients gaining more information about the performance of their work – especially if the placement of an ad hurts them. And, networks probably aren’t keen on having to charge some clients less based on where spots run.
One of the presenters next week, PrecisionDemand CEO Jon Mandel, says he’ll try to persuade people that there’s no reason to even bother with brand-specific ratings.
“All we care about is how much does the cash register ring on the spots you run …” he said. “If the marketplace says ‘CSI:’ is worth $100,000 a spot, I don’t care because I know for client A it’s worth $112,000 and for client B it’s worth $86,000 -- because I know how many sales its going to generate.”
It’s hard to imagine Duggan and his team not eventually ramping up a fight for stronger data linking viewership with revenues. But, maybe it’s first things first. It’s the oft-glacial media measurement industry after all.