Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Engagement vs. Impressions

And so, the debate continues.

There was a nice point of view on the issue written by Joe Marchese this week. The key line from his piece was as follows: “There is a seemingly infinite number of “impressions” available for brands online, yet any idiot can tell you that there is not an infinite amount of consumer attention available for brands in any medium.”

Joe goes on to say, “Publishers can create “impressions” simply by adding ad units, but adding ad units don’t magically increase the amount of consumer attention in the world. What publishers have that is of value to brand advertisers is consumer attention. In order to prove valuable to brand advertisers, publishers must find a way to share their audiences limited attention with marketers in a FAIR exchange of value.”

Well put, Joe.

And yet, the problem that everyone seems to raise is how does the industry go about measuring engagement? I don’t know how to answer that.

But I do know how we can measure attention. When someone clicks on something, or opts in to it, their attention can be measured through the amount of time spent before they click away.

The word “engagement” complicates the process because it means different things to different people. For many, engagement has a depth to it. One can be deeply engaged or slightly engaged. Attention, on the other hand, is more of a surface measurement. You can pay attention but not be engaged. But you cannot be engaged without paying attention.

So instead of trying to measure the psychological aspects of engagement, what if we just started with attention? Attention is like a cab ride. When the cab starts moving (or the video starts playing) the meter starts running. You tell the cab where you want to stop. At that point the meter stops running.

Attention can be measure through time spent, just as a cab’s meter works off distance. It’s a very simple measurement.

That said, even if we could all agree to start discussing attention rather than engagement vs. impressions, we are still nowhere near solving the problem. The reason is that media agencies are responsible for buying impressions. That’s how they make their money. Through the purchase of impressions, media agencies are responsible for creating “attention to" the message.

But, they are not responsible for creating “attention within" the message itself.

That’s the creative agency’s responsibility.

The problem is that there hasn’t been a system set up through which to buy and sell attention within the message like there currently is to buy and sell impressions.

Media agencies don’t want to be held accountable for the creative agencies efforts.

Hell, creative agencies don’t want to be held accountable for their efforts.

If we start to measure attention, it means that we will be able to start monetizing it. With monetization comes accountability.

With accountability comes fear.

And fear is why we’re in the mess we’re in now.

And so, the debate continues.

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