Commentary

Six Things You Won't Believe Happened At CES. #5 Is EVERYTHING!

Okay, great -- you clicked or opened the article. You can leave now. 

The ad impression was counted. You staying and reading the rest of this post doesn't earn its publisher any more ad revenue.

In fact, it would be better if you left and clicked on something else, so you could generate another impression.

Seriously, what are you still doing here?

Joking aside, if you are actually still reading, the above is the problem we face when we set the lowest possible standards for "impressions" of both display and video. To see the problem from a very thoughtful publisher/platform perspective, read Twitter and Medium founder Evan Williams’ excellent post “A Mile Deep, An Inch Wide” (Hat tip, MediaREDEF).

Services from Twitter to Instagram to BuzzFeed to Medium itself are caught up in a debate over how to measure just how popular they actually are. Many industry pundits have defaulted to the currency of monthly active users (MAUs). Now that Twitter’s publicly traded, the MAU currency has made its way into the jargon of Wall Street analysts, who seem to find it both as tantalizing and perplexing as bitcoin. It’s that MAU currency by which Instagram “beat” Twitter.

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But Williams explains his “I don’t give a shit” perspective thoroughly. In one particularly  of Medium traffic, he says, “[t]he main driver was a highly viral post that blew up (mostly on Facebook). However, the vast majority of those visitors stayed a fraction of what our average visitor stays, and they read hardly anything.” He further explains: “That’s why, internally, our top-line metric is TTR,’ which stands for total time reading. It’s an imperfect measure of time people spend on story pages. We think this is a better estimate of whether people are actually getting value out of Medium.”

The TL;DR version of Williams’ argument: Medium prioritizes real attention, not just views or “impressions.” His subtler implication is that when clickbaity and traffic are the only charge, it can mask the true value of ideas being exchanged. And this is exactly the same as what we’re experiencing in online advertising.

Think about what we are doing to quality content producers -- both video and print -- if the standard of currency, an "impression", continues to be counted as half the ad viewed for as little as 2 seconds. Then why would publishers ask anything more of their audience? In fact, wouldn't it make sense to try to interrupt their audiences’ experiences as little as possible, and still generate an "impression”?

This is why quality publishers are more and more looking for metrics beyond "impressions" (and, sorry, but I can't help putting "impressions" in quotes every time I write or say it these days, because the definition has never been so bastardized). I have been saying forever that simply rating the impression is what can ultimately save online advertising. And I love Ev’s perspective on metrics that matter for publishers -- AKA real attention. I think we need to take stock of what role a broken advertising system plays in creating perverse motivations for publishers in the first place.

8 comments about "Six Things You Won't Believe Happened At CES. #5 Is EVERYTHING! ".
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  1. Caitlin Byrne from Katana Connect, January 8, 2015 at 1:08 p.m.

    I could not agree more with your stance on "impressions" for display and video. Marketers and advertisers work so hard to put together great content, compelling creative, etc. all for the goal of making an "impression". We completely strip the value of the work we put together by measuring "impressions" rather than the actual impact on the audience, and I agree that scoring the impression would be a step in the right direction for online advertising. Thank you for a great read!

  2. Cody H from Some big ad agency, January 8, 2015 at 7:20 p.m.

    There isn't enough incentive yet to re-define an impression. Right now the goal is to make sure that the ad can actually be seen (viewability). Once we know that for sure, then we want to know that it's in the right environment and in front of the right audience. Then we want to know we're paying the right amount for all of these pieces. Finally, after all that, we want to know that the user was actively engaged with the page on which our ads land.

    Some measurement company will make a lot of quick money in rating the quality of viewable impressions on sites and surveys, but the practical execution of this information is still years away. Still, it's a great idea and certainly worth pursuing, just don't hold your breath.

  3. Speedy Essay from http://www.speedyessay.co.uk/, January 8, 2015 at 11:34 p.m.


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  4. Tom Batho from Media One Consulting, January 9, 2015 at 10:08 a.m.

    I too could not agree more about the bastardization of the word "impression". To me an impression, is NOT an impression, until someone is impressed! And you can't be impressed by seeing half an ad for 2 seconds. The whole ecosystem is built on generating impressions, not about delivering an impact to the end user. It will fall apart at some point if not corrected in my opinion. There's too much marketer money at stake.

  5. John Grono from GAP Research, January 9, 2015 at 3:59 p.m.

    While TTR is a more meaningful metric it is still does not reflect what the audience is actually doing, but rather how the publisher's servers see my device's browser. For example, I have three other MediaPost tabs open in IE - all racking up time - plus I have Firefox open with the news headlines. The net TTR is way inflated in the gross majority of situations.

  6. Speedy Essay from http://www.speedyessay.co.uk/, August 4, 2016 at 6:19 a.m.

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