Thursday, March 29, 2007

Why All Impressions Are Not Created Equal

It used to be that an impression was an impression. Whether anyone actually watched the commercial or not was irrelevant. Agencies and programmers were able to charge clients for offering the opportunity to see the spot.

End of story.

But as measurement capabilities have become more refined, impressions are no longer created equal. To an advertiser, who can now measure viewer time spent with a commercial, this is good news. After all, most advertisers would argue that a forty-five second impression is more valuable than a five-second impression.

And it's difficult to refute that.

More time spent with a brand message is better than less time spent with a brand message. One reason is simply because time is finite. There are only 24 hours in a day. And the more time a consumer chooses to spend with one brand's message, the less time they will have to spend with a competitor's message.

Advertisers see value in this. The question is whom should they pay for offering this value?

Programmers/networks are trying to convince advertisers that their programming is the reason that viewers stay involved in the commercial. This is superfluous logic.

The reason that people stay involved in a commercial is because of the commercial itself. How it is crafted. Written. Filmed. Directed. People don't pay attention to a painting in a gallery because of the gallery. It's because of the way the artist has crafted the painting.

As the industry evolves from intrusive-based advertising to opt-in advertising, this will only become more evident. And will, in turn, hand power back to advertising agencies.

Creative agencies will, in fact, be able to be paid on how well their work involves the viewer. If the work is crafted in such a way that it entices the viewer to watch the entire spot, that offers more value to the advertiser than if the viewer watches only ten percent of the spot.

In return, the advertiser should be willing to pay their agencies based on time spent with the commercial.

Time spent is really nothing more than an impression in control of the viewer. In the digital marketplace, the viewer decides when to opt-in and when to opt-out. The programmer's job is nothing more than to give the viewer the opportunity to opt-in.

It's the agencies job to keep them there once they do.

As audiences continue to fragment and impressions continue to lose value, time spent with a brand's message will gain favor as a currency to consider.

Will it put pressure on agencies to do better work? Obviously.

A handful will thrive.

As for the rest...

1 comment:

  1. Needless to say, you are absolutely right: the power of an ad’s creative message to engage and hold a viewer should be the ultimate measure of an ad’s value – and on how advertisers value their agencies. But I’d like to add two points to your observation that more refined commercial audience measurement will bring us there.

    My first point is that the placement of an advertising message – no matter how creative – in the wrong environment, and with the wrong context, is also a pretty important factor. Running breakthrough creative for a feminine hygiene product in Comedy Central’s “Man Show,” might engage the show’s audience, but it might also generate a less than desired response. But I know you already agree on the importance of media planning and serving the right ad message to the right audience at the right time.

    My second point is, well, more to the point. While it’s true that the ad industry looks like it is moving toward more refined audience measurement techniques, the reality is it may simply be getting a more granular version of the wrong kind of data. The so-called “commercial ratings” data Nielsen will rollout next season will not actually report the audience of specific TV commercials. It will be “average commercial minute ratings,” or the average rating for all commercials airing within a program. That will not enable an advertiser or an agency to know whether their ad message is seen for 45-seconds or for five. It will only tell them what the average audience for all the commercials in that show are. And while that arguably represents and improvement over a market in which advertisers pay for the average audience of the program their spots run in, it isn’t much of one.

    To be fair, big advertisers, including an aggressive outreach by the Association of National Advertisers, have called on Nielsen to push beyond the average commercial minute ratings to begin providing specific commercial ratings. And at least one agency – Starcom MediaVest Group – has paying Nielsen for access to data that will enable them to compute precise commercial minute ratings.

    But even these seemingly more refined estimates are just that, estimates. And not very good ones at that. Not if anyone is really trying to understand what the commercial audience impression is. That’s because Nielsen’s methods for measuring viewing – the infamous people meter – wasn’t designed to tell anyone how and what people were watching on the kind of second-by-second basis that would be needed to know the exact audience of a TV commercial. It only tells you whether people were in the room during the periodic intervals when the people meter prompted them to push their buttons, or when they turned a channel.

    The clickstream data that comes out of digital TV set-top devices would be some kind of improvement, allowing advertisers to at least know when, and for how long, a TV set was tuned to their commercial. But it still wouldn’t tell you whether someone was actually watching it. To do that, we’d some kind of passive audience measurement that tells us whether a person was in the room when the commercial was on, and was likely to be looking at it.

    The first part of that equation might be fulfilled by some other new measurement techniques, such as Arbitron’s portable people meters, or Nielsen’s so-called GoMeter, or a host of new metering techniques utilizing cell phones and other hand-held devices.

    But to get that other part of that equation, we’d need a new measurement approach altogether: One that enables advertisers to factor whether or not a viewer in the room was likely to be watching a commercial.

    To date, TV advertising has operated on an “opportunity to see” premise, and that’s what Nielsen’s methods and many of the others being developed have been designed around. What advertisers need to truly understand the value of a commercial impression, is what the “likelihood to see” is.

    So far, the only medium to tackle that question is, believe it or not, out-of-home. And for an obvious reason: Most advertisers were unwilling to accept that consumers in the proximity of an outdoor ad were necessarily being exposed to it. To estimate the actual exposure, the outdoor media industry has devices so-called Visibility Adjusted Indexes (VAI), which factors the likelihood that a consumer in a specific proximity to an outdoor ad will actually be looking at it. It is the first medium to raise its onus from an “opportunity” for advertisers to a “likelihood,” and some members of the out-of-home media industry believe it will become the model for all other media to follow.