Column: Aperture -- Digging Deep to Get it Right

The move from program ratings to commercial ratings for national TV is eagerly awaited and long overdue. Yes, there are questions about how, exactly, commercial ratings will be calculated minute-by-minute. But no matter how you slice it, having a closer read on the number of people exposed to advertising is much better than just counting the number of people exposed to the program that contained the advertising.

Given trends in advertising, it’s no surprise that Nielsen and the television networks finally made the move. Other media are seeing higher spending increases than national TV, according to a range of forecasters. Where’s the money going? Simple: the Internet. Spending on the Web continues to rise faster than spending for any other medium.

There are as many reasons for this trend as there are clients and categories using the Internet. Automotive marketers see the Web as a place to intercept consumers as they search for information and pricing on new cars. Health care marketers use it to reach people suffering from particular aliments. Youth marketers see their audience looking to make connections on the Web. Retailers see sales. And everyone sees results.

It’s not surprising that the Internet, as our newest medium, is the furthest along in the quest for the Holy Grail: measurement of the number of people who are exposed to and interact with a brand’s advertising rather than just with the editorial or program content in which it runs.

Measurement companies have built information by combining panel surveys and audits. With this data, they can report how many and which people have been exposed to and have interacted with advertising. The very technology that propels the Internet allows us to track consumer actions, providing an effective audit of communications behavior and enabling advertisers to message more precisely.

The audit of individuals using digital communications happens every minute of every day. All other media are at least two steps behind the Internet in audience accountability; first, they continue to rely on survey data as the currency, and second, they have until this point tracked the content audience, not the commercial audience.

Even the newest iteration of Nielsen audience measurement, the granular all-minute respondent level data, uses survey methodology, tracking a limited number of respondents on a continuous basis.

Magazine audience data is even further from the point of action, since the MRI survey takes place twice annually among a sample that’s then projected to the entire reading audience. Syndicated research has unsuccessfully attempted to move toward issue-specific audience tracking, albeit still through the sample survey and projection methodology.

Even if we were able to accelerate all media to meet the audience reporting measurements present in the Internet, we’ll only get closer to commercial ratings, and that’s good, but people ratings are better.

People ratings are what will tell us whether consumers connect with our brand messaging. If the consumer is receiving more than 3,000 messages daily, with the ability to turn the page, skip the ad or avoid the click, how do we as advertisers move toward greater consumer connectivity?

Just knowing that the consumer has seen the brand message is not enough. We must dig deeper by understanding consumer behavior and message receptivity so that the right messages are placed in the right vehicles at the right time.

We believe that people ratings, where and when consumers are affected by advertising messages, are the best indicator of a media vehicle’s ability to effectively reach and influence consumers.

So let’s support commercial ratings. They’re good. But let’s keep the dialogue focused on people ratings. Because they’re better.

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