Ratings vs. Reactions: Measuring Ad Effectiveness In The Digital Age

What’s more important to advertisers, ratings or reactions?

By that I mean should advertisers make their ad buy decisions based on how many people watch a TV show, or by how many reactions to their ads a TV show can generate?

Consider the following example: McDonald’s aired the same commercial featuring Max Greenfield hawking its pound sirloin burgers on three highly anticipated season finales on Wednesday May 13: "American Idol," "CSI: Cyber" and "Nashville." All were among the top-rated shows of the evening, with "American Idol" attracting 7.74 million viewers, "CSI:Cyber" 6.88 million and "Nashville" 4.7 million.

Although the "American Idol" spot generated the most digital activity of the three (based on online views, Web searches and social activity at the time), it was the spot airing during an NHL Playoff game between the New York Rangers and Washington Capitals that performed best, despite the game attracting only 1.85 million viewers.



Now McDonald’s spent an estimated $300,000 on the "American Idol" spot, but less than $70,000 on the NHL Playoff spot, yet both delivered a share-of-voice rating of 23%, which is the percent of earned digital activity generated by that show compared to other shows. The "CSI:Cyber" and "Nashville" spots each earned only about a 13% rating despite over $200,000 and $100,000 spent on placing them, respectively.

Now if you’re McDonald’s, which do you consider a better investment… the shows that got the most viewers, or the one that delivered the best response?

If advertisers want a better snapshot of what’s happening with their ads, they should be tracking activation, not ratings. They should be looking at the currency of viewer engagement, not some vague brand recall stat. To do that, it requires measuring what viewers do, not what they say.

Fortunately, we live in an age where sentiment, word of mouth and engagement is now digital, and as such can be tracked. Ads that inspire a search query, online view, or social action can not only be measured, but by monitoring when these activities take place we can determine what show generated the resulting traffic.

Social actions show intent, not merely viewing. Attention is the real performance currency of ads, and social activity is the best way to measure that. By tracking things like Internet searches for recently viewed ads, or online streams of that ad, or even the chatter surrounding that ad on social, we can get a far stronger indication of whether an ad had any impact on the audience

Successful ads can generate millions of searches, millions or tens of millions online views and hundreds of thousands social actions, depending on the creative execution and the media plan. Compare this to “brand intent” panels, and you get the difference between a judged event vs. a timed race. One’s a subjective observation, the other is a solid stat.

With viewing activity migrating to mobile phones, tablets and over-the-top programming--all of which deliver better measurement data than TV networks offer--advertisers are already shifting their budgets. Just compare the reaction to this year’s upfront presentations to that of the Newfronts. Upfronts are generating less ad-buy commitments, while digital Newfronts are gaining more.

Advertisers growing increasingly sophisticated about measuring the ROI of their ad budget, and already we’re seeing networks like Time Warner and Viacom backing away from the traditional Nielsen rating as a measurement of advertising’s value (and success). That’s a great start. The traditional Nielsen ratings are already seeing frustration among advertisers.

Measuring the effectiveness of ads is not a ratings number. It’s an engagement number. With viewership fragmenting across devices and platforms, and the dollars that follow them fragmenting along with it, measuring the impact of an ad from a TV show at that moment is a metric worth watching.

Networks that measure their effectiveness this way will find themselves with more ad dollars in the long run.

2 comments about "Ratings vs. Reactions: Measuring Ad Effectiveness In The Digital Age".
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  1. Ed Papazian from Media Dynamics Inc, May 21, 2015 at 8:42 a.m.

    Sean, you mke an interesting and valid point. However, immediately recordable digital reactions are not the only response an advertiser----a branding advertiser--- wants from an ad. By far, the largest response is deep in the consumer's mind, reinforcing the impressions gained by previous exposures to the campaign and, often, not manifested by an instant response like tweeting. Where a direct response advertiser cares mainly about the call ins or click throughs that an individual ad exposure generates, this is not how most branding advertisers evaluate their campaigns----it's more about cummulative impact.

    Nevertheless, I tend to agree that any barometer of ad impact needs to be studied, including social activity. While such responses involve a relatively small proportion of the audience, variations of the magnitude you describe, might be predictive of total sales or ad awareness response. But that has to be demonstrated, not merely assumed. Said variations might be a function of the demographic distinctions between program audiences with young appeal shows more likely to stir up social activity. Or program content may be the cause, with reality shows being more likely to induce tweeting than other showtypes. After all, it's exactly the same commercial, so if social activity is really predictive of ad impact, we need to know why one show outperforms another and whether this knowledge can be used in future buying desicions.

  2. Robert Barrows from R.M. Barrows, Inc. Advertising & Public Relations, May 21, 2015 at 2:51 p.m.

    Here is the answer to the age old question of "What's the best way to measure the effectiveness of your advertising?"

    The Problem: Measuring the Effectiveness of Advertising...The Solution: Some very easy-to-use advertising math called “The Barrows Popularity Factor.”

    Here is a link to some information about some very easy-to-use advertising math that can help your company make a lot more money!

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