At the Advertising Research Foundation's recent AUDIENCExSCIENCE conference, the industry took stock of the progress made and the challenges that still lie ahead in pursuit of comprehensive and comparable cross-platform audience and advertising measurement.
While some speakers voiced concern over keeping pace with changes in technology and consumers’ ever-more-diverse ways of consuming media (particularly video), the industry is upbeat about the future of audience measurement.
Progress was reported in coverage of all types of video consumption -- whether linear, on-demand, ad-supported or subscription-based, delivered through cable or satellite or OTT. There are still blind spots and uncooperative sellers who refuse to support the transparency afforded by independent third-party measurement. However, there are fewer of them now -- so, progress!
What’s more, the independent measurement companies have gotten better at using projectable random samples and panels to calibrate and correct for the known biases in the more granular viewing data available from set-top boxes, smart TVs and streaming video providers.
Cross-platform measurement progress is especially evident in ad campaign measurement, where the barriers are often political (versus technical) and driven by parochial business concerns, requiring the cooperation of all players in the distribution chain.
If, for example, a company like Amazon would -- for the common good -- support unified third-party measurement, the whole industry would benefit from much more comprehensive measurement of media and advertising exposures.
This is a fundamental challenge to the advertisers who pour money into companies like Amazon, but exert no pressure to cooperate in cross-platform measurement. The ARF stands ready to work with marketers to encourage walled gardens, for example, to support open-standard SDKs and standardized identifiers, such as those advanced by CIMM and the IAB Tech Lab.
At AxS, we also saw evolving discussion of how and what to count (that is, the metrics). The Media Rating Council's George Ivie summarized its proposed new 70-page cross-platform counting standard: the duration-weighted viewable video impression, which builds on the MRC’s prior work to develop minimum standards of viewability and filtration to eliminate non-human ad impressions (e.g., bots). This is the first big public effort to create a next-generation metric that bridges the gap between how linear TV and digital video are currently measured.
The mere fact that the MRC has published a detailed proposal for people to debate, support and/or refine is progress, despite some disagreement and controversy. These debates should be welcomed -- especially when they are grounded in transparent empirical research. After all, that is one of the key ways in which we make progress against difficult objectives.
This gets to the core of the raison d’etre for the ARF. Founded in 1936, the ARF exists to apply the rigor and objectivity of scientific methods to solving key questions about how to measure and value advertising and marketing activities.
It's hard to imagine a more direct way to deliver on that mission than to conduct basic research that informs the development of an industry standard that ultimately will be fair, impartial, and the basis of industry audits. In this, the ARF is a natural ally of the MRC, as both aspire to be scrupulously nonpartisan and objective, see member constituencies as including both buy-side and sell-side, and listen closely to their members’ wishes in prioritizing activities.
Though sometimes having overlapping goals, the ARF and MRC are independent, distinctive organizations. Their product portfolios differ -- with the MRC focused on auditing and the ARF focused on research and training -- but their underlying missions are well-aligned. The ARF also has a broader member base and thus it gets into advertising creative, branding, marketing allocation and other topics apart from media and ad measurement.
Both organizations are sometimes faulted for being too slow and deliberative, too concerned with building consensus and legitimacy, while we may never see 100% agreement on all measurement issues. But there is no substitute for what serves as the basis of business transactions, even if they take time to build.
So now is the time to act. Submit your comments on the proposed standard to the MRC during its open comment period. Reach out to the ARF to see how you can get involved in its projects and initiatives to lead innovation in cross-platform measurement.
And let your marketing partners know how you feel about the need for open, transparent and valid ad measurement -- the key to managing reach and frequency, and ultimately to analyzing campaign performance.