'But Sir, What About Impressions?'

I was in a conference room in downtown Manhattan. The CMO of a large package goods company was addressing his media agency, asking questions about branding on digital platforms.

His queries were pointed. His patience, short.

"The biggest benefit to online is accountability," he said. "For us to dedicate branding dollars to online, branding needs to be accountable online."

"Is it?" he asked.

It's interesting to watch media agencies attempt to answer this question, if for no other reason than it's similar to watching a teenager being grilled on why he came in past curfew. While you know the answer will be creative, you also know it won't be completely true.

As the pause became a bit more than pregnant, the CMO, perhaps realizing the quandary he had put them in, interjected again, noting, "Branding and direct response are two very different things. The objective of my branding budget is less about building sales immediately and more about building sales over time. Would you agree?"

Nods all around from the media agency.

"In other words," the CMO continued, "branding is about building relationships first, sales second. Now, how are relationships built between people?"

As no one jumped in to answered his question, he did so himself. "By spending time together."

Nods all around from media agency.

"The only difference here is that one of those people is my brand."

Nods all around from media agency.

"So if we can measure how long someone is engaged in my advertising, then we can start to get a handle on how well my branding is working."

The nodding stops from the media agency.

"Let's say we put 20 different 30-second spots online. This means that consumers would have a possible 600 seconds to spend with my brand. Can you tell me how many of those 600 seconds I am able to engage them for?"

"Well, not exactly," replied the head media honcho. "You see, we buy mostly pre-roll and in-stream online. Forced views, basically. Sure, we can measure whether viewers are there, but, to be quite honest, we don't really know if they're actually engaged in your messaging."

"I see," said the CMO. "So you're saying there's no way to measure how many seconds my video advertising is actually engaging people for."

As heads nodded around the table, a voice at the far end, obviously much lower in rank -- as signified by table position alone -- chimed in. "Well..."

Heads turned in astonishment as the voice continued: "If you let viewers initiate the interaction with the commercial, you know, let them start watching and stop watching when they want to, then you'd get a fairly accurate measurement as to how long they were engaged for."

The CMO turned to Mr. Honcho. "Is that person right?"

"In theory. More or less. Yes," was his reply.

Which led to an interesting test recommendation from the CMO. Abandon all pre-roll and other intrusive forms of video advertising online and buy only video formats that can be user-initiated.

"But sir," one of the more senior buyers protested, "what about impressions?"

"What about them?" the CMO relied. "Impressions are about reach. You're buying reach on broadcast. Broadband gives us the chance to build relationships rather than reach. Relationships, as we all just agreed, are built through time-spent together. Didn't you just tell me that if the viewer initiates the interaction with my video messaging, then I can accurately measure their time-spent with my brand?"

"Um, yes, I believe we did," said Mr. Honcho, looking down the table at the junior person on the end for confirmation.

"If so, then it seems that branding can be measured online," said the CMO.

"Not meaning to be forward, but does this mean that we'll be getting some of your branding budget for online efforts?" asked Mr. Honcho.

"Since it appears that branding is more accountable than we thought, yes," replied the CMO.

With that, the meeting was adjourned. And as files were collected and people started heading for the door, I stopped to ask Mr. Honcho whom the junior person was who'd spoken up.

"Oh, you mean our new senior vice president of online video?" he answered.

"Senior vice president? Really? Since when?"

He just smiled. "Gotta go," he said. "Didn't you hear? We just got some brand dollars to spend."

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