M&A: Measurement and Attribution

Or media and attribution. Or maybe even measurement and accountability.

Pick any of those, and that’s what “M&A” could have recently stood for in the ad tech world.

There were three acquisitions in May alone that centered around attribution, with the two biggest being Google’s purchase of Adometry and AOL’s of Convertro. The third was Rakuten Marketing’s acquisition of DC Storm.

Three times qualifies as a trend, but why now?

“We are in the midst of a trend with respect to seeing the potential for attribution to advance both the understanding of how media works and how to improve media-buying,” theorized Gunnard Johnson, the recently appointed SVP of data and analytics at Centro, a new position at the company. “I believe that the recent acquisitions highlight this trend via companies investing in ways to demonstrate value beyond the click or impression delivery.”

But a trend of greater accountability isn’t evidenced exclusively through M&A activity -- with “M&A” this time actually meaning mergers and acquisitions. Just this week several players made moves with a focus on digital ad quality, such as the launch of an “in-view only” exchange from RealVu, or SpotXchange tapping DoubleVerify to blocks ads before they are served to bots.

Johnson maintains attribution becomes even more important when combined with functions offered through tag management systems or data management platforms (DMPs), such as on-ramping offline CRM data. He believes media measurement itself is an ongoing challenge that will never be fully solved -- echoing what people say about fraud -- but said, "I see the activity around attribution as a sign that value can be extracted today from the measures in place."

He added: “The ability to tie information back to an individual consumer versus a cookie is a game-changer in the industry." Johnson believes companies are focusing on attribution because in the near future -- or even now -- it can help "unlock more of the digital-based, one-to-one CRM” that marketers crave.

That digital-based, one-to-one CRM could be a privacy nightmare, though, and the industry doesn’t appear all that close to agreeing on the best way to handle consumer privacy concerns.

In the digital ad industry, and particularly in programmatic buying, “transparency” is used to ask questions such as whether an advertiser knows exactly how its money was spent, or whether a publisher knows the true value of its inventory.

Johnson believes attribution will help with this type of transparency, noting that it will give advertisers “a better understanding of where their advertising dollars go.”

But he also pointed out that “transparency” exists outside of advertiser-publisher relationships, and that marketers are going to need to be more transparent with the people they ultimately want to reach -- the consumer.

“Moving beyond cookies to actual consumer delivery, consumers will need more transparency about what type of data is being collected from them, how it’s being used and the ability to opt-in/out of tracking and use,” he said.

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