Valuation And Evaluation

  • by , Op-Ed Contributor, September 16, 2008
An interesting column in the August issue of Media magazine by Mediavest's Yaakov Kimelfeld referred to reach and frequency as "totems of the television age," an incomplete set of measures for describing the way an ad campaign works.

I think it is difficult to quarrel with the efficacy of reach. "How many?," as I've written in this space before, is a fundamental evaluative criterion for the performance of an advertising plan. If your advertising is working, reaching more people with it is generally good.

Frequency has always been something of a surrogate for the "quality" of exposure delivered to that reached audience (more frequency equating with increased effectiveness). Of course in this day and age, some researchers are trying to come up with something that adds value to the concept of frequency. Hence the rise in the importance of engagement, a concept, if not a metric, which intends to sort the number of impressions delivered to the audience reached into buckets based on the value or quality of the impression (an "engaged" impression being better than a disengaged one).

And too, I've always believed that for a well-conceived and delivered ad -- the right message to the right consumer at the right time -- the effective frequency may be one.

I find myself of two minds with respect to Kimelfeld's piece. On the one hand, I agree with the notion that reach and frequency are the starting point for online advertising (but the starting and ending point for much of traditional media.) We are able to know so much more about the circumstances of the online impression -- including, in many cases, the path the exposed consumer takes to an actual purchase, both after and indeed before the impression in question. But I have to point out that cookie deletion can make it impossible to accurately track an exposed consumer (i.e., computer) over time -- and many researchers are turning to the use of third-party panels to accurately measure the sales impact of online ad campaigns.

I also might take issue with Kimelfeld regarding the extent to which the "rating point metrics" -- reach and frequency -- can be deployed online today. While past purchase history and online behavior might well be argued to be far better predictors of receptivity to advertising than traditional demographics, we can create media planning targets online comprised of these types of behavioral descriptors. And too, while the thing we call "Web 2.0," and which I will call here portable content, can draw an advertiser's campaign across the Internet to unforeseen content environments, tracking and measurement technology can potentially follow those campaigns wherever they go. But, again, cookie deletion can be a confounding problem when one tries to track an exposed consumer over time. Again, one solution is to use third-party panels.

But the key point Kimelfeld makes is an important one:

"The advertisers have no choice but to assess the relative roles of all available measurements and to create their own exclusive currencies informed by the unique economies of their specific products and brands."

One size, in other words, will not fit all. Almost certainly this was true in the analog age, but here in the digital age, planners and buyers have the flexibility and the toolkit available to craft the evaluative criteria of their campaigns as appropriate to the communications objectives and to gauge campaign performance not just in terms of reach and frequency, but in terms of the actual marketing and communications objectives.

The concept of a common currency is important because buying and selling advertising is a business, and we collectively need some way to value inventory. But valuation of inventory for commercial purposes need not be the same thing as establishing evaluative criteria for the success of a campaign. Indeed, the fact that we can uncouple these concepts online is a profound benefit of online advertising.

So read Kimelfeld's commentary; I hope I haven't stolen all his thunder. And tell me: what metrics do you use to evaluate the performance of your online campaigns?

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