TV Has An Attribution Problem

This post was previously published in an earlier edition of Media Insider.

The advertising industry is quickly approaching a future where household-level sales attribution becomes table stakes for all media campaigns and channels. This future sets up digital media companies well, but could be disastrous for TV companies.

TV has an attribution problem, and the industry needs to fix it.

Let's be clear: TV advertising does not have an effectiveness problem. No media channel delivers access to more consumers faster, with more impact, than TV. TV’s ability to drive sales predictably and at scale for categories from retail, travel and packaged goods to restaurants, cars and financial services, has been well known and documented for decades.

However, TV companies don’t provide real-time reporting at the household and user level for each and every campaign, as digital, search and social do. And that’s a big problem for TV companies that want to avoid big ad budgets cuts -- especially from agencies and brands under pressures to provide greater accountability for when and where they spend ad dollars.



When marketers buy ads from Google, they get access to Google Analytics to help them attribute sales and conversions to those ads at the user level. When large marketers buy ads from Facebook, they are given access to what is arguably the best marketing science team in the world, as well as a powerful set of software tools to understand and attribute the sales impact of their ads at the person and household level.  When marketers buy ads on Amazon … You get the picture.

Digital is winning bigger and bigger ad budgets because it works, and because digital giants can draw a visible line between ad exposure and a sale. As advertisers become increasingly addicted to campaign-level sales attribution -- and they are -- media sellers that lack this feature will lose budgets, whether or not they are effective. That is the dilemma TV faces.

Fortunately, there are now plenty of tools to link TV ad exposures to sales and conversions at the campaign and household level. TRA, now owned by TiVo, helped pioneer this capability. Neustar has built a powerful product here. Nielsen provides these capabilities through its NBI and NCS tools. ComScore has offerings here. So do another dozen or so start-ups. And sellers like CBS, NBCU, Turner, Fox and Viacom are stepping up in this area, including attribution with some of their campaigns.

However, in spite of a plethora of tools, providing campaign-level sales attribution at the household level still the exception in TV. It needs to become the norm.

What’s holding TV attribution back? First, many in the industry are afraid of it. What if the ROI is low? That's one worry.

Second, many others don’t think that TV should be driving sales, let alone providing attribution for it. TV is a branding medium, they say. Plus, clients and agencies control the creative, so it’s an unfair burden.

Third, it’s expensive. Who will pay for all of this, they ask.

Fourth, putting sales attribution and ROI out front in TV will create a race to the bottom in pricing, they claim.

Fifth, if they just keep doing the same things as last year, and maybe negotiate a bit harder in the upfront, they’ll make it through another year -- or through the sale of their company -- without having to make any big changes.

For all of those worried about what "they say," I point you to TripAdvisor’s Q4 earnings call from last week. On it, the online travel booking company’s CEO and CFO told investors to expect strong revenue and profit growth for the year ahead.

Why? As a result of significant improvement in the company’s cross-channel ad attribution capabilities, TripAdvisor was going to significantly increase its TV ad spend and decrease its digital marketing expenditures -- which would result in more sales of higher quality than it was getting from its previous marketing mix,  more heavily skewed to digital advertising, according to the CEO.

Yes, that's a digital- and mobile-first company making that statement.

The message for TV companies is simple: Trust in your platform. TV ads are underpriced, not overpriced. But you won’t be able to capture the real value of your ad inventory until you know exactly how your spots drive sales for your advertisers, and you make sales attribution table stakes for all your campaigns.

What do you think? Are you ready?
4 comments about "TV Has An Attribution Problem".
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  1. Robert Barrows from R.M. Barrows, Inc. Advertising & Public Relations, May 10, 2018 at 2:04 p.m.

    There is actually a very easy way to solve "attribution" problems. I have developed some very easy-to-use advertising math that can help all kinds of businesses make their advertising much more effective.
    The will let you take a lot of the guesswork out of your advertiisng, and you can use the math to help you test and measure and plan your advertising copy and media much more effectively and much more efficiently. The math is called "The Barrows Popularity Factor" and it is extremely easy to use. All of the math can be done by one person, in moments, with just a simple calculator. You can read more about "The Barrows Popularity Factor" online.

  2. Dale Knoop from TRE, May 11, 2018 at 11:45 a.m.

    The reality I see is that w/o a direct, instantaneous, and friction-free link between TV ad driven impulse and the "I want it now on my phone in my hand" consumer mentality, brands advertising on TV welcome search and Google will do what Google has been paid to do-introduce your inspired consumers to other brands. So the second point is a cop out IMO.

  3. Dave Morgan from Simulmedia replied, May 11, 2018 at 3:13 p.m.

    Good point Dale. What I was trying to convey was that television are very powerful in not only driving long-term branding objectives, but can be very impactful on short term sales. This doesn't have to mean immediate sales from a direct call to action - from the phone in the viewers' hands. It can also be measured to name/address matchable sales data at a retail story two weeks later.

  4. James "Buff" Parham from Parham & Associates, LLC, May 16, 2018 at 1:55 p.m.

    Linear TV can certainly develop the skills necessary to provide real time sales attribution metrics for its advertisers.  The real question is whether or not senior managment has the will to do so.  Old habits die hard, and many key decision makers are eyeing retirement as opposed to making the needed changes in the linear TV ad sales model.  It's not as if no one saw this "digital shift" coming...Meanwhile, precious ground (and money) was lost because of a delayed response to the change in the landscape.

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