Why GroupM Is 'Shadowing,' Not Certifying Upfront Marketplace Deals

For several months leading up to the 2022-23 upfront advertising marketplace, I’ve weighed in on how a “perfect storm” of events came together to create a form of babel for the cornerstone of any upfront media buy: the underlying currency used to estimate and deliver on it.

I need not recount the events leading up to it, but there they are:

  • Nielsen’s loss of Media Rating Council accreditation for its existing currency.

  • Its reboot to an entirely new ONE.

  • The push by the “cross-media” inventory supply chain to certify and utilize an array of competing, and conflicting “alternate currencies” for deal-making.

  •  And especially the capitulation of the demand-side – agency media buyers – to accept them without the proper industry vetting.



From the beginning of the pre-upfront seasons and supplier positioning, I’ve felt like it was an old bum’s rush, but I couldn’t figure out the last part, why agency execs were simply rolling over and accepting currencies picked by their suppliers.

I chalked it up to the lack of ad industry leadership, and the fact that U.S. has been loathe to adopt the common sense approach of JICs, or joint industry committees, that work together to outline, bid and agree to use common currencies.

Well, I was pleased this morning to see at least one organization, WPP’s GroupM, unveiling a “roadmap” for audience-measurement partners, its clients and its own organization. Instead of haggling and shooting from the hip, GroupM’s roadmap provides some here-and-now currency alongside testing and experimentation for the future of what the agency holding company calls “the measurement gap.”

“Marketers are leaning into new tools and technologies to bridge the measurement gap, raising important questions about the accuracy and sustainability of panel-based measurement as changes in the digital media environment continue to accelerate beyond one currency,” GroupM North America CEO Kirk McDonald explains in the announcement this morning, adding, “Outlining expectations with our measurement partners and working together to implement standards is critical to create real change that makes advertising work better for our clients and to better track our progress towards client growth goals.” 

Here’s what GroupM requires its measurement partners to adhere to:

  • Incorporate feedback from the buy-side and input from the Association of National Advertisers.

  • Gain universal acceptance, and utilization by all media partners.

  • Provide traditional and digital partner coverage, with the opportunity to add new metrics like attention.

  • Provide fair and accurate audience representation.

  • Move towards standardization and greater transparency and plan to undertake the MRC audit process (if not already accredited).

  • Provide interoperability across GroupM’s tools and systems.

  • Share new commercial models to fund measurement.

If that sounds a bit aspirational, it’s because the marketplace definitely is in transition, but least GroupM has organized a roadmap for getting it to its new place.

In the meantime, the agency has announced explicit and firm steps for handling the here and now.

For one thing, it  says it will transact all of its clients’ deals for 2022-23 upfront and the year ahead based on Nielsen’s current data, utilizing alternative measurement providers, including “outcome-based approaches” for those clients who want to use them to “shadow Nielsen deals.”

Not surprisingly, the alternate currencies GroupM says it will continue testing are the same major ones already certified and being pushed by the ad industry’s cross-media sales organizations – iSpot, Comscore, Videoamp and Nielsen’s new One alpha version.

GroupM also disclosed that it will test the alternate data sources with more than a dozen of its largest clients, including Unilever, Nestle, Ferrero, Domino’s, TJX Companies and Mars – so that they can get familiar with the data in order to move onto the next phase of market currency/ies.

4 comments about "Why GroupM Is 'Shadowing,' Not Certifying Upfront Marketplace Deals".
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  1. Ed Papazian from Media Dynamics Inc, June 6, 2022 at 9:56 a.m.

    Joe, one of the "requirements" that GroupM is asking of its "alternative data sources" is to provide fair and accurate audience representation".

    I wonder how it is determined that each supplier----or any of them-----fulfills this requirement---especially if they produce significantly different findings as to "audience" levels, demos, how the various sellers divide the"audience", etc. For example, say Nielsen shows NBC with a 10% share of the prime time 18-49 audience but supplier X gives NBC only 8%, supplier Y gives NBC 12% and supplier Z has it at 4%. How does anybody reconcile these diferences.

     And is Nielsen's old people meter panel still  considered the "gold standard"---hence the most accurate? Also, if a source fails to get itself accredited by the MRC--and many of the alternatives don't appear to be rushing to do so----is it assumed that it's findings are less "accurate".

    And speaking of "gold standards", in times past it was assumed that telephone  coincidental immediate recall surveys were that standard. Not any more. What's replaced the telephpne coincidental?

    It seems to me that the folks at Group M have a lot of questions they must seek answers to---many of which may not be answerable. Still, I wish them luck---at least somebody is trying to conduct a wide ranging evaluation.

  2. M Cohen from marshall cohen associates, June 6, 2022 at 4:09 p.m.

    Do you find it odd that besides the two main and veteran companies in audience measurement (Nielsen and Comscore), only one "new measurement company" has applied for accreditation with the MRC -- Media Research Council?

  3. Ed Papazian from Media Dynamics Inc, June 6, 2022 at 4:26 p.m.

    Maybe they are "shadowing" the MRC, Marshall---or, perhaps, they are not really competing for the eyeball counting aspect of "TV " audience measurement.---but for something else---like supplying add-on metrics as a refinement when this seems appropriate ---and useful---- to the sellers.

  4. Joe Mandese from MediaPost, June 6, 2022 at 5 p.m.

    @Marshall Cohen: How do you know who has applied for accreditation? The MRC only lists services that are accredited or under review.

    Currently, both Comscore and Nielsen are under review.

    iSpot has been accredied for occurence data only.

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