The Promise of the Pivot: How We Shifted Our Business from Media to Measurement

By Diane deCordova, Chief Operating Officer & Co-founder, Adelaide

Knowing when to pivot is essential to building a business. Throughout my career and in my current role as COO at Adelaide, I have been passionate about identifying the greatest opportunities for growth and positioning businesses to best take advantage of them.

Understanding when to embrace change, and viewing it as an opportunity to meet the demands of an evolving market rather than as a hurdle, requires a market-oriented mindset. Executive leaders must cultivate a deep understanding of their customers—their wants and needs, challenges, and perspectives—while making a concerted effort to disregard personal biases.

Understanding when to embrace change, and viewing it as an opportunity to meet the demands of an evolving market, requires a market-oriented mindset.

Today, Adelaide is the leader in attention-based media quality measurement. Using our omnichannel metric AU, we’ve helped dozens of advertisers, including some of the world’s largest brands, make smarter media investment decisions. But this success didn’t happen overnight. In fact, the initial idea for Adelaide grew out of a decision to pivot.

Moving Beyond the Sandbox

I co-founded Adelaide Metrics three years ago as a spin-off of Parsec Media, a previous iteration of our company that sold media on a “cost-per-second” basis. Parsec served as a fantastic sandbox for us to develop an understanding of advertisers’ needs and experiment with the concept of attention metrics. We only offered one mobile-friendly ad format, so it was a very controlled environment where we could use duration, or time spent with ads, as a proxy for attention.

However, we encountered several blockers to growing the new measurement side of our business:

  1. The product worked, but our focus on duration limited our ability to scale.

Duration works best as a proxy for attention in “politely interruptive” environments: full-screen inline and skippable pre-roll ad formats. Under these conditions, the viewer has complete control over time spent with an ad, so advertisers can assume that duration indicates active attention. We proved this with our clients—that time spent with advertising positively correlated with advertising outcomes—but quickly realized that duration is not an accurate measure of media quality outside of politely interruptive ad formats. While a vital contributor to a placement’s ability to drive attention, duration fails to consider important aspects of the ad experience, such as placement size, position, and the number of competing ads on a page.

These limiting factors were especially obvious when our clients asked us to apply Parsec’s duration-based targeting solution to additional formats and channels. 

  1. We also found that optimizing toward duration creates some unintended incentives.

As a standalone metric, it incentivizes publishers to produce lots of sticky ad placements and show ads to audiences who are most likely to pay attention rather than an advertiser’s ideal audience. This directly contradicted Parsec’s goal of helping advertisers drive more impactful campaigns.

Scaling challenges aside, we recognized the efficacy of duration in politely interruptive environments and knew we were on to something. We needed to augment the time-spent metric with additional factors to control for the incentives that reward small ads in cluttered experiences.

Shortly after launching Adelaide, our team began constructing a metric called the Attention Unit (now the AU). AU is an omnichannel media quality score that measures the likelihood of attention by any person to any creative in a particular placement and, most importantly, the likelihood of subsequent impact. Over the past three years, our business has achieved triple-digit growth year-over-year, expanded to a team of nearly 40 people, and was recently named one of Business Insider’s 19 most promising ad-tech startups of 2022.

Start with a Market Problem

For those looking to transform their own businesses, start with a market problem. When we first embarked on this venture as Parsec, viewability had just been launched to protect media buyers from paying for unseen ads, and we recognized that binary metrics would not be enough to mend the broken media market.

From there, start small. Focusing on a single ad format allowed us to experiment and offered greater exposure to the pitfalls of legacy media metrics. Then, build and iterate on previous ideas while keeping your customers top of mind.

Adelaide has continually refined and expanded our product to make it as seamless to use as possible for advertisers. Expanding beyond the mobile media market forced us to learn what attention looks like across other platforms and devices. We had to bring in quality measures beyond duration to build our metric. And even though our goal was always to create a level platform to compare media quality and value across channels, we started with measurement for taggable display and online video (OLV) before expanding to other environments, like Connected TV (CTV), linear TV, and audio.

This iterative process—of building, learning, and refining— has fostered an evidence-based approach to business. While growth is important, creating successful products and services requires research, controlled experimentation, and customer-centricity.

While growth is important, creating successful products and services requires research, controlled experimentation, and customer-centricity.

The transition from Parsec to Adelaide was ultimately driven by an understanding of the marketplace and the needs of its constituents, the desire to evolve into a much-needed solution, and the flexibility to pivot.

My final advice to fellow business leaders is to welcome uncertainty, especially when you are passionate about the problem you’re aiming to solve. Not every business pivot will be successful, but exploring the unknown will teach you to trust your instincts and learn from your past‑and with an evidence-based approach, it just might be the key to positive change in your industry.

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