Counterpoint: When Is An Impression Not An Impression?

Kym Frank, president of Geopath (formerly the Traffic Audit Bureau), invoked Erwin Ephron in a recent MediaPost commentary (“The Late Erwin Ephron's Measurement Contributions Still Ring True”).

As a student of Ephron’s, I would respectfully remind Frank about his “ring of truth” principle in applying a “visibility adjustment index” (VAI).  So, here is some out-of-home measurement history I believe Ephron would offer in response.  

The Ephron Letter commentary “And the last shall be first” referenced by Frank actually never mentions “likelihood-to-see impression” as a currency description. Ephron did reference visibility adjusted impacts.

Visibility adjusted impacts as a currency description, the result of applying a panel’s visibility adjusted index to its measured audience, was subsequently changed to VAC (“visibility adjusted contacts”) as a measurement for actual viewing of content, not the impact of the brand message.  Of historical note, the TAB’s research committee adopted “eyes-on” as the currency description rather than VAC for many years.



As Ephron noted, the application of a visibility adjustment moves the currency from a nebulous version of “impressions,” which hides many measurement sins, to the more valuable and non-discountable “viewed” level (VACs) used throughout most of the rest of the world for OOH audience currency.  

“Eyes-on” (or VAC) as a currency description, was dropped by TAB/Geopath in favor of “impressions” as a result of misguided pressure from the Out-of-Home Advertising Association of America (OAAA). 

Other major media are probably still cheering that giant step backwards decision. Essentially, it immediately devalued OOH currency. As per Ephron, it hides the true incremental value of applying a visibility adjustment and using a discrete, different description of  those scientifically adjusted impressions for clarity and precision.  

“Viewable impressions,” a relatively new and often misunderstood term loved by digital media, is merely a confirmation that there are potential opportunities-to-see a piece of creative by a measured media audience. Viewable impressions have no reference to any level of audience exposure or viewing of ads -- by any consumer of any kind.

In addition, only qualified viewable impressions should be measured for estimating a media audience “opportunity-to-see” -- or “gross impressions.”  Typically estimates of audience “impressions” have either no, or at best, minimal measurement requirements for being actually viewed as part of audience research.

JCDecaux, UK has a marvelous explanation for understanding OOH measurement, nomenclature and definitions. 

A while back, Josh Chasin, chief research officer of Comscore and I presented “When is a GRP not a GRP?” at a MediaPost TV/Video conference.  Understanding that without a visibility or hearing adjustment, GRPs are just another derivation of “impressions,” the principles we presented underscored the significant differences that exist in the value of media “impressions” essentially based on the rigor and quality of measurement of the medium. “‘In the presence of’ is not viewing, listening or reading,” Ephron noted, “Passive measurement plus VAI -- visibility adjusted index -- is the best measurement system we can construct today for most media.” That was in 2004.  

These OOH measurement fundamentals also appear to be facing potential disruption courtesy of the Media Rating Council's (MRC) proposed standards for OOH for all formats, which are expected to be approved and released early next year. These standards are being developed from the MRC’s recently released Audience Measurement Standards for digital place-based networks.

I am among those who consider the digital place-based standards flawed, as they critically lack harmonization with the measurement approaches of OOH in the U.S. as measured by Geopath. As such they ensure that any digital place-based OOH currency developed under those standards will not be comparable to all the other formats measured by Geopath, which is the currency standard for OOH in the U.S.  

If Geopath continues to support “likelihood-to-see impressions” as its currency, per Frank’s commentary, it will do a disservice to the medium and the ad industry. OOH share of budgets will continue to suffer relative to the value of VACs compared to “impressions."  

I urge Geopath to re-embrace the use of VAC, or “eyes-on,” as OOH’s valid currency description. Only then will the industry fully understand the value and importance of applying visibility adjustments to media impressions currencies as Ephron so wisely proffered. 

2 comments about "Counterpoint: When Is An Impression Not An Impression?".
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  1. Ed Papazian from Media Dynamics Inc, October 18, 2019 at 8:58 a.m.

    I agree, Tony, but how will "the industry" go about turning to some unified and comparable measurement of eyes -on -screen for TV, digital video and OOH? If advertisers and their agencies expect the media sellers to be the primary funders of such research---which I am cerftain will be the case? Is it realistic to expect TV networks and digital biggies to fund eyes -on-screen and, more importantly, in the case of digital---eyes-on-ads---- research when the findings will show that only a fraction of "the audience" is actually visually attentive to the ads? Is it prudent for the sellers to wise up all of their advertisers about the realoities of ad exposure when so many of them are happily chugging along assuming that "impressions" actually mean "impressions"?

    I have championed atttentiveness measurements of the sort we are discussing since ancient times however I doubt that the sellers---a few excceptions aside---will run with this ball. And I doubt that advertisers will band together in sufficient numbers with sufficient dollar clout to effect the changes required. Which leaves us talking and theorizing---as always----but not seeing real progress made. Sad.

  2. Tony Jarvis from Olympic Media Consultancy, October 18, 2019 at 11:54 a.m.

    Insightful as always.   Your perspicacity clearly points to the need for advertisers and their media agencies to seriously  "drive audience measurement" to ensure meaningful equitable intra and Inter media audience comparisons surely at the content exposure - "eyes-on" (or ears-on") level.  Attentiveness (which is beyond simple exposure), impact, or communication measurement per the ARF model are higher order measures than exposure and are also much more related to the creative execution, brand category, etc.   As such these campaign attributes could be considered beyond the primary responsibility of the media platform.  
    Attentiveness, impact, communication and ultimately sales response cannot be achieved without first achieving a known ad exposure.  Which brings us right back to my theme and "our" conclusion.  Perhaps the ANA and 4As are listening???

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