Column: Aperture - Creativity in the Age of Accountability

  • by June 22, 2005
BY Steve Farella & Audrey Siegel

In previous columns, we've noted that consumers are open to receiving messages at different times and in different media, depending on the product category. As the stewards of a brand's media budget, planners must track and measure all communications elements. In today's post-Enron, post-WorldCom environment, accountability is king. Tracking and measurement must be precise.

There exists, however, a conflict between our imperative to surround the consumer with messages placed in more effective - and sometimes less traditional - places, and the growing need for accountability.

Ironically, the more creative we are with media placement, the less accountable that placement may actually be.

Certainly, the beginning of the 21st century will be known in the advertising industry as "The Age of Accountability." However, accountability can mean many different things. In media placement, our perception of accountability can be measured on two axes - message verification and audience assessment. Every occasion, medium, and schedule can be measured on these two axes.

As an industry, we're reasonably confident that the audience measurement of a tv spot in the national broadcast of the Super Bowl is stable and projectable and a positive attribute on the audience assessment scale. We're also confident that there are verification tools to measure that the commercial will run as ordered in the Super Bowl. Again, this represents a strong attribute on the broadcast verification scale. Conversely, creative message placement through guerrilla tactics, say in the Georgetown section of Washington, D.C., may not rank high on either scale. Typically, these Advertising opportunities don't offer metrics to either ensure or prove that the message was displayed or distributed as planned, or that the audience delivery met our expectations.

At TargetCast, we fielded a proprietary study among advertising professionals to evaluate accountability imperatives. We found that advertisers are increasingly promoting the concept of advertising and media accountability to their agencies. Most advertisers have, or are developing, formal accountability guidelines, and many are creating proprietary accountability and return on investment (ROI) models. In addition, advertisers believe media accountability consists of three components - schedule integrity, substantiation of audience delivery, and direct assessment of ROI.

In our survey, we asked participants to rate their perception of each media vehicle's accountability. Results indicated that network TV remains the gold standard of accountability, with an 8.5 rating (out of 10) in schedule integrity, and a 7.7 rating (also out of 10) in audience assessment. New opportunities such as place-based media fell into the poorest quadrant, having a low rating on both counts.

Most leading advertisers perform ROI analyses by modeling media delivery to sales, awareness, or other hard goals. If the media can't be reliably measured, then it is difficult to include it in the ROI model.

Still, we must be creative in connecting with the consumer and, at the same time, establish reliable methods of measuring the performance of those creative media elements.

If done properly, the desire to reach a consumer at the right media aperture and in a creative way doesn't have to conflict with the need for accountability. The same inventive flair that's used to understand the implications of these new opportunities must be applied to creating reliable methods to track and document the media's message delivery, audience assessment, and ROI . So even in today's age of accountability we should be aware that all of our message delivery efforts, even the most creative, are accountable and can prove that they pull their own weight.

Steve Farella, president-CEO, and Audrey Siegel, executive vice president and director of client services, are co-founders of TargetCast TCM. (

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