Can Web GRPs Be Better Than Offline GRPs?

When I start considering vehicles for a media plan, I like to take myself through an exercise. I draw concentric circles on a white board and categorize my vehicles according to four variables. Those four variables are well known to people in the communications business: Target, time, place and manner.

If I were considering media vehicles for an automobile manufacturer, I would place a behavioral targeting package for an auto site right in the center ring. Targeting individuals who are in consideration mode (as determined by behavior) on an automobile review site with a branding message would hit all four variables rather nicely.

As I continue to consider vehicles, I place them into the various rings of the concentric circles based on their ability to synch up with those four variables. Some vehicles might hit the right types of people, but not necessarily during the consideration period. Others might get to the right people at the right time, but in content that's not relevant to automobiles. In the vast majority of cases, the vehicles closest to the bull's-eye end up on the plan, while those that stray toward the outside of the circles are more likely to be passed over.



Target and place tend to be closely correlated variables. In print media, a magazine like Car & Driver would be a good example of how target and place work together. This is a no-brainer. An auto manufacturer should be advertising with car books because of the self-selecting nature of print audiences. People who are interested in cars buy car books.

Getting all four variables aligned is somewhat tough, though. Even on the web, we still have a tough time overlaying multiple targeting criteria to get to the people we want. But eventually, the technology will catch up to the demand and we'll be able to target people who meet the magic combination of all four variables.

To reach the right target, we might use demographic or psychographic targeting, a feature that many sites don't have. But we've seen some interesting technological achievements that will one day allow for these types of targeting across the web. To get a handle on time, an auto manufacturer might target people who have researched cars on the web recently. Behavioral targeting and content-level targeting allows us to do this today. Place is easy – just pick relevant content. Manner is something the web can handle very well. We can use ad servers to select the proper message for the target, whether that is a banner, rich media unit, interactive brochure or any other type of interactive message.

Truth be told, we're not that far off from being able to cherry-pick inventory that will meet all four criteria. But will traditional media be able to follow suit?

With the way TV and radio are planned and bought these days, an auto manufacturer might be buying media that address only two of the four criteria (typically target and manner). Print is a little better, with the ability to address target, place and manner. Only interactive media have the wherewithal to achieve critical mass against all four.

What does this mean for the future of media buying? Specifically, what does it mean for the level playing field we're trying to promote in interactive by introducing reach, frequency and GRPs as online metrics?

In TV, it's tough enough to buy against a specific demographic. Networks often nix the idea of buying against a demo with a secondary qualifier. Will that change if interactive allows for buying against two, three or even four qualifiers?

What could happen is that we could end up with GRPs of widely differing quality. If interactive nails all four variables precisely, while TV and radio hit only two of the four, then we've upset the playing field again. Some GRPs would be qualitatively light-years ahead of others.

Or will measurement systems in traditional media catch up to those in interactive? Something to think about before you go to bed at night…

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