Out Of A Crisis, A Solution: End The Myriad Of Vanity Metrics

  • by , Op-Ed Contributor, June 11, 2020
As remarked during the ’08 economic downturn, “don't waste a crisis” was an opportunity to make improvements in the United States’ financial infrastructure. 

Similar logic applies to creating media plans that will reach key consumers, especially as we see shifts in behavior and booms in streaming. We as marketers must respond to these changes in order to reach our target consumers. 

During P&G's recent earnings call, CFO Jon Moeller remarked that as consumer behavior and media usage changes, "there's big upside here in terms of reminding consumers of the benefits that they have experienced on our brands and how they have served their and their families' needs, which is why this is not a time to go off air." Static media plans must evolve to meet the current reality.

One major gap within those media plans? Crafting a solution to the measurement conundrum. By seeking measurement standardization, marketers step closer to understanding true consumer impact.



While the word "measurement" means many things to many people, marketers must define what it means to them and their company as a first step. What are they seeking to measure and demonstrate -- brand awareness, an action (call? click?), sales? What techniques can they leverage to learn more about the desired audience, and in turn measure their engagement and response?

COVID-19 and its resulting "shelter in place" rules have redrawn our usable world within the four walls of our homes. Concerts, like Global Citizen's One World: Together at Home, appear televised instead of in amphitheaters, while cooking classes rely on screen-to-screen interaction versus hands-on help.

This shift has led to an unsurprising rise in the overall growth of video tuning levels, with daytime dayparts and news programming experiencing increased viewership.

Explosive growth in OTT sources has occurred as well. As the COVIE-19 pandemic beats on and causes a climate of sheer uncertainty, one thing remains clear: Americans are spending more time -- and money -- on streaming content.

According to Nielsen, total weekly streaming minutes per person in the U.S. have increased across Amazon, Hulu, Netflix, and YouTube. Between February 24th and March 16th, Amazon viewership increased by 4.5 minutes per week, Hulu by 3.9, Netflix by 10, and YouTube by 6.6.

Other platforms yielded staggering viewership shifts as well, seeing a 16.1-minute-per-week elevation.

In total, weekly streaming minutes went up by 41.1 over a three-week span, a trend that continued and accelerated well into April. Within that, some surprises emerged with categories that we previously would consider 'also-ran' content. For example, if you look at changes in monthly performance by category across all content types, Fitness went from -15% in January, the month of New Year's fitness resolutions, to 147% in March.

Not only time, but also money spent increased during this period. According to WSJ and Recurly Inc., the latter of which provides billing and other services for thousands of subscription companies, consumer spending on paid subscriptions for streaming TV and video jumped 32% in the week of March 16th from the prior week.

We all have dialects, but we need to determine a common language. The industry has talked about cross-platform measurement since before my daughter was born. (She is 17 now.)

In the current climate more than ever, brand advertisers must gain the ability to assess this transformed landscape by comparing "apples to apples," looking at NBC against YouTube and Roku.

An independent third party such as Nielsen, comScore, or Kantar would historically provide the data. However, today's hyper-fragmented world has spurred brands to reconstruct the tuning from disparate sources.

Brands are not alone. First, they can end the obsession with vanity metrics and fake facts peddled by new platform and media opportunities by looking at actual measurement as opposed to just tracking.

Second, they can increase testing and learning, enabling brands to evaluate the new opportunities before investing more deeply.

Third, they can ask questions and seek trusted, independent guidance.

Failure to act will hinder growth and make it harder to adapt product offerings to this rapidly changing consumer landscape. Look to strong research and opinions that can confirm your revised plans for targeting this evolved audience -- and win by demonstrating the impact of those new engagement plans in the months to come.

7 comments about "Out Of A Crisis, A Solution: End The Myriad Of Vanity Metrics".
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  1. Ed Papazian from Media Dynamics Inc, June 11, 2020 at 8:39 a.m.

    Jed, I agree with you and many others calling for a single---hopefully impartial---source for supplying "audience" data on all electronic platforms using a common definition. That will, undoubtedly, be a device usage measurement as, at this point, there is no way to establish whether anyone was present while the device was on nor whether anyone---or a specific person--- was actively watching what was on the screen---especially the ads.

    This is the real problem. If, at some time in the future, Nielsen expanded a modified and enlarged version of its peoplemeter system to include all digital as well as "linear TV" content, all that it could supply would be some form of average minute---or average commercial--- "audience" and, if needed, similar data on specific commercials, subject to sample size limitations. That's a start  but avdertisers would still have to adjust the data based on their opinions--- or research ---on the merits of long and short commercials for their brands, the negative implications of excessive ad clutter, whether the editorial content enhanced or detracted from their "ad exposure" and, many other variables.

    It is possible to construct an "eyes-on-screen" measurement which gives part of the solution, with Nielsen supplying such data---- or another party might do a parallel study and advertisers might "marry" Nielsen's device usage information to the "eyes-on-screen" findings. But who is going to fund such an ambitious and expensive refinement? Certainly not the advertisers. Yes, the agencies---but that won't be nearly enough. So it will be up to the media sellers---many of whom will be very reluctant to pay for research that shows that many of their "viewers" aren't really "watching". 

  2. John Grono from GAP Research, June 11, 2020 at 6:49 p.m.

    Jed I share that vision.

    We need standardisation, co-operation and commercialisation (i.e. funding) to achieve that vision.

    But we also have to temper the expectation of advertisers that having better metrics is the panacea.   When I first moved ad-agency side, one of the first things I was taught went along the lines of ... a great media plan can amplify a great ad, but it can't save a crap ad, and that conversely, a bad media plan can kill a great ad.   Putting an over reliance on metrics could further distort the necessity of ad quality, rather than relying on 'make-goods' from the media as compensation which is the basic current model.

    Further regarding Ed's comments, OzTAM in Australia is making great progress down that path.   It's 'universe' is to measure broadcaster contenet  - broadcast, catch-up PVR, website, streaming etc. - and basically tracks the usage of all TVs plus any connected device in the panellist homes.   This 'data stream' can be processed in a multitude of ways to include/exclude various types of usage and access.   However Ed, it doesn't include 'eyes-on' (or 'ears-open') yet.

  3. Ed Papazian from Media Dynamics Inc, June 12, 2020 at 9:23 a.m.

    John, I'm glad to hear that Australia is taking that first baby step forward. However, until we go beyond meterized device usage and find a way to determine whether anyone is really "watching" we are still operating in a very primitive manner. What will probbaly happen is once a proper sample---or panel---is developed and everyting is "measured" in terms of device activity, everyone will pat themselves on the back and move on to other issues.

  4. Tony Jarvis from Olympic Media Consultancy, June 12, 2020 at 1:58 p.m.

    Jed, no surprise that I agree with Ed and John overall.  Fundmentally the solution is finding a common cross-media currency and that includes all media platforms not just video, not a common measurement as different media will require different research techniques to generate such a common currency.
    What must be stressed is that without concrete target audience exposure or "Eyes-On" data, the advertisers and their agencies have essentailly only device tuning data - which you appear to support.  As you are a former Chariman of ARF may I remind you of its seminal work, "Making Better Media Decisions" which underlines the value of audience exposure data compared to vehicle distribution measurement. 
    The other fundamental issue is that the media can (and should!) only take responsibility for generating target audience Eyes-On.  Advertsising attention, engagement, awareness, consideration, etc. and ultmatley brand sales are all critical and indeed the end game but they are driven by so many marketing pressures out of the control of the media the most important of which is creative and in-going brand share and equity.  
    The "three of us" have consistently stressed audience exposure, contact, or Eyes-On (or Ears-Open) as the only meaningful and equitable common cross-media currency and that measures of content or ads simply rendered by device (MRC's so called "Viewable Impressions" i.e., basicaly circulation or tuning data) is unacceptable.  Such an impressions measure  generates bogus comparisons across media when the ultimate goal is improved brand metrics that can only be impacted when there is an actual ad expsosure - as Ed says, "really watching".  We also understand completely that moving to such a "common language" as you call it will be fought tooth and nail by various industry entities as they will reveal too much. 
    So sadly Ed is correct; the situation in OZ appears little better; and the myriad of media's vanity metrics, offered well beyond just the digital video media, will continue. 
    Is there hope that your daughter will lock the industy leaders invloved with ARF, MRC, CIMM, ANA, 4As, IAB, OAAA, NAB, etc., etc. in a room until a truly meaningful equitable solution on a media currency is established? 

  5. John Grono from GAP Research, June 12, 2020 at 5:42 p.m.

    Just to reinforce that our TV ratings are 'eyes-on' - or as close as possible without forcing panellists to wear vision goggles.   Yes it does require some 'button-pushing', some onscreen reminders and a lot of detailed data validation procedures before the data is processed.   It's not perfection, but if perfection is your goal then forget about it now - or accept a biased sample of something like n = bugger all!

    Where Ed and I tend to diverge is how deep 'eyes-on' should go.   When I look at minute-by-minute data, you can see very noticeable audience changes.   New people tune in to content (that counts as 'eyes-on' in my book), people surf between channels/programmes (doesn't count as 'eyes-on' in my book), and tune out either to another channel (counts as 'eyes-on') or turn off the device (definitely 'eyes off').   So the system in an overall sense works.   And yes your guessed it - a strong correlation to (i) ad-breaks (ii) end of programme (iii) and for sport, end of the quarter etc.

    What it does NOT do is measure attention levels.    In nirvana it would.   In practice I have no idea as to how we could effectively measure it, as TV ratings are reported daily.   Attention levels are affected by real life, e.g. kids screaming in the background that they want dinner, conversation, boredom, 'phone calls, a incoming tweet.   I think we just have to accept them as the swings-and-roundabouts of the diurnal round.

    But it is important to note that TV content has different attention levels.   And those levels vary from person to person.   Please don't interrupt me when I am watching my Sydney Swans playing AFL.   Also, please don't interrupt my wife watching a movie.   So is there a norm?   Maybe?   Probabaly not?   Despite that TV broadcasters do bespoke research on their content for their own consumption to inform programming decisions.   But do advertisers do that for content that they don't own (i.e. ads) - No.   Should they - No?   Should the advertiser - Yes?   Should the advertiser pay the broadcaster do it for them - snowball in hell's chance.

    So what good are TV ratings?   They provide a basis upon which we can trade.    IMHO they are a good surrogate for the perfection we all crave but don't want to pay for or wait for.

  6. Tony Jarvis from Olympic Media Consultancy, June 12, 2020 at 6 p.m.

    On point John!  And, based on the ARF Media Model, "Attentiveness" is Level 4 which one level above "Ad Exposure (Eyes-On)" - Level 3 and as suggested beyond the direct responsibility of the media platform. 
    Per ARF, " Advertising Attentiveness. This is the degree to which those exposed to the advertising are focused on it.  It is the first measurement level at which the effects of the medium are significantly confounded with the effects of the creative. (Current measurements include dedicated attentiveness studies, recall or campaign tracking studies, brainwave research, etc.)"
    So what good are TV ratings?  A bloody sight more meaningful when they are based on "Eyes-On" ("or as close as possible") than merely based on content rendered on a device or "viewable impressions"!  QED or is that EJT?

  7. Ed Papazian from Media Dynamics Inc, June 12, 2020 at 7:02 p.m.

    Guys, I don't think that I'm demanding perfection when it comes to "eyes-on-screen" measures as the technology appears to exist to measure this for in-home viewing as TVision has demonstrated. Yes, it would take a fairly large parallel-to-Nielsen panel for TVision to produce day by day, show by show, eyes-on-screen attentiveness findings and be able to break these down ---if needed---for individual ad campaigns. TVision would have to track every working set in each home and there are other issues that would need some work. Also, I doubt that TVision can handle the totality of digital audiences at this moment. However, as the overwhelming majority of TV consumption takes place at home---on a TV set---including many  OTT exposures---at least we could get a pretty good fix on visual attentiveness for most TV ad "impressions" by marrying TVision's data with Nielsen's. And, John, nobody would have to wear helmets.

    The problem is that the TV networks would have to be convinced to fund the pretty steep cost of such an "eyes-on-screen" service--or find a way to bundle it into time sales so the advertisers paid via higher CPMs. But would the networks wish to support a measurement that showed that a majority of their average minute "commercial minute audience" does not watch an average commercial? And will slumbering advertiser CMOs ever band together to press their agencies to take a unified posture on such a plan---as happened when we shifted to commercial minute ratings as opposed to all content ratings, a while ago?

    In other words, "perfection" may be attainable ---with some refining and proper funding---right now for most viewing, providing we are sensible about it. For example, it would be silly to demand a panel size so huge that could provide stable results for every telecast by every channel where their average minute ratings are .1% or .2%. In such cases, averages across dayparts and/or long durations like a week for many cable shows--would suffice---if we were being reasonable. I should add that such a system, if fully developed, has great potential not just for TV ratings but also for evaluating ad effectiveness, media planning issues such as wearout and TV programming decisions--so program producers and advertisers might fund those specific elements, which would help shoulder the added  financial burden.

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