Commentary

The New Rich Media Metric: "Real Time Spent"

In a couple of his Spin columns, Mark Naples asked, "How do you measure your rich media campaigns?" In response, Thomas Deierlein of Dynamic Logic wrote, "We need to use standard ad effectiveness metrics. We cannot get back into the same world we were in back in 1996-1999 where online is inventing new metrics and measures for our medium and that marketers understand, use for all media, and value. We need to focus on the standard metrics that start with the goals and objectives of the campaign."

I think Mr. Deierlein asks for a silver bullet that does not exist. There are no "standard metrics" that - in the current profusion of new forms of advertising - can universally measure the success of the "goals and objectives of (every) campaign."

Even the "standard metrics" of yesterday were, in truth, not very effective even if they were "standard." When success metrics are based on small sample bases (say, Nielsen homes) and projected into the millions, all that happens is that the primary fatal flaws (inability to count those who left the room or changed channels during the commercial) are buried in the audience count.

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But interactive has ushered in a whole new opportunity to measure individual reaction to advertising, in nearly real time. And Mark is right; we do need to figure out someway to measure the success of rich media without defaulting to simplistic metrics like click rates. In my view, the new metric to measure the success of rich media (indeed eventually all media) will be an updated version of a very old metric: "time spent." For a long time, magazines have used "time spent" to promote their reader involvement and loyalty with the assumption that more time spent reading stories translates into more exposure time to ads in the publication.

But here again, this is a metric based on a small sample base and projected to cover the entire audience. It is not the same as being able to put a stopwatch on every single person who approaches your ad. This can only be done online. So let's call our new success metric "real time spent."

One of the challenges for advertisers, especially offline, is that people are rapidly changing their media habits and what once worked (like a nice primetime buy) no longer works and online's higher level of accountability is being examined through jaundiced eyes. As a result, branding efforts are moving online at an accelerated pace. For example, BURST Media's business is now nearly two-thirds branding advertising versus direct response.

"Real time spent" is pretty simple. It measures how long an online visitor is exposed to your branding message. The number of video streams served over the Internet in 2004 rose to 14.2 billion, a 79 percent increase compared with 2003, according to AccuStream iMedia.

The averaged streamed video lasted 2.5 minutes. With streaming video certainly soon to be a mainstay of online advertising, effective video ads should run only about 10 seconds, since users interact with the Web at a few inches distance from the screen as opposed to 10 feet away on TV. This may shorten real time spent, but with compelling creative (which could include some kind of game or contest) the spots could be viewed repeatedly.

While the Internet can provide more accurate measures of brand exposure, it is an active medium so consumers can easily shut off (or out) what they don't like. With various anti-this and anti-that programs, they have voted pop-ups practically out of existence. Not only will this put a great deal of pressure on interactive creative, but also on how it is presented. At the end of the day you want to show a long "real time spent."

Put yourself in the consumer's mindset. Do you enjoy being tricked into seeing an ad? Do you enjoy having the ad cover up what you came to view? Do you like ads that won't close? Of course not. The real secret of achieving long "real time spent" is in providing the consumer with something MORE than just the ad message. That more might be a quick purchase opportunity; it might be to provide tools and applications they find handy in the context of the ad (such as a calculator or translator) or a game or quiz that they enjoy. "Real time spent" is our best bet to bring offline budgets to online. Buyers of traditional media do not understand (or perhaps, do not trust) click-throughs, etc., but do understand time spent.

"Real time spent" is the new metric for online ad success. Make certain that your units are contributing to a longer session with the ads, instead of a shorter one.

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