Impressions were bought and sold with little regard as to whether the viewing of the commercial was ever consummated.
Like it or not, we had little choice. An impression was as granular as our measurement methods could get.
Digital is changing all of that -- along with the economics of video advertising. While media will still be where the bulk of an advertiser's budget will go, a new currency is starting to come into play: the currency of creative.
Credit both the granularity and transparency of digital for this change. Advertisers will know not only how many started to watch their commercial, but also, how long they stayed engaged with it. This, will in turn, enable us to move from impression-based marketing to involvement-based marketing.
From a media economy based on size -- to a creative economy based on time.
Economies, as a rule, are governed by what is most scarce. Today, time is our most precious resource. No matter how you slice it, there are only 24 hours in a day. As the competition for our time/attention keeps increasing both online and off, the supply remains finite.
Viewers will find themselves making rational choices on where to allocate their time and attention for both the programming they watch and the commercials that they engage with. Trade-offs will be necessary. These trade-offs will prove especially critical to a marketer's success.
Because the pool of each individual's time is finite, time spent with one brand's advertising, is more than anything else, time not spent with the competitor's advertising. This alone offers value to advertisers. Since people don't normally buy from strangers, time spent with a brand's advertising should correlate directly to sales.
As the value of time spent becomes better accepted, advertisers will start to pay their agencies based on how well they create this value. The more time the viewer spends with the commercial, the better it will be for the advertiser. Hence, the more they should be willing to pay their agency. The reverse, or course, will also hold true.
In this new results-based economy, failure will no longer be lucrative.
Television, whether viewers choose to watch it on an online or offline platform, is evolving into an on-demand, non-linear business model. Advertising that intrudes will be overridden by consumers as they gain more control. Pre-roll and in-stream, the intrusive advertising formats used today, are only incorporated because they are familiar.
Not because they work.
As viewers are allowed to initiate the interaction with commercials about products, or brands, or promises that interest them, a "start point" for engagement is registered by the platform operator. The intent of the viewer, rather than that of the advertiser, is measured. Unlike with Nielsen and impressions, we will know that someone is actually in the room.
As long as the commercial is worth their time -- i.e., it addresses some need or desire they have -- viewers will stay engaged.
There are those who will argue that few, if any, will ever opt-in to a commercial. And perhaps they're right. But the counter-argument is that people won't mind investing time, as long as they control the time invested. Giving them complete control, allowing them to opt-out of a commercial when they want to, gives the viewer the freedom to opt-in in the first place.
Once they do, it is the creative's responsibility to keep them there.
The naysayers among you will contend that agencies will just create entertaining schlock that doesn't sell squat. And you're right. Some will -- no doubt, the same agencies that are creating entertaining schlock that doesn't sell squat today.
But those agencies that understand that the art of advertising is not just to entertain, but to involve and persuade, will appreciate the opportunity this new currency offers. It's a measurable way for good work to be worth more than bad work.
As for advertisers, paying for creative based on time spent offers them the accountability that they have been looking for. Rather then compensating their agency based on the amount of time spent working on the creative, compensation will be based on the amount of time viewers spent watching the commercial.
Outcome, rather than effort, will be rewarded.
Impressions, obviously, won't go away. Nor should they. But as viewing audiences continue to fragment in the long tail of the digital marketplace, impressions will become further devalued.
As that happens, a new way to buy and sell advertising will be needed.
Time spent, in reality, is nothing more than an impression in the control of the viewer. And viewer control, as we all know, is what the digital future holds.
It's a future where the best way that advertisers can regain control is to give the viewer complete control, measure what they do, monetize what is measured, and pay based on results.
Not just for media.
But also, creative.