It’s Time To Get Serious About Measurement

spanfeller-sell-siderThe Sell-Sider” is a column written by the sell-side of the digital media community.

Today's column is written by Jim Spanfeller, CEO at Spanfeller Media Group.

Amazingly, the Internet -- the most trackable medium ever due to its two-way and one-to-one connections -- has always faced huge issues surrounding measurement. There are many good reasons for this, as well as a number of really bad reasons. Regardless, now is the time to fix it.

To its great credit, the Interactive Advertising Bureau, an organization I once chaired but have been somewhat critical of lately, has been doing great work in this area, in both pushing forward new ideas and getting support from many areas of the ecosystem. Its Making Measurement Make Sense (3MS) initiative is good and smart, but it’s simply taking too long to put in place.

This is no one’s fault since the Internet is complex and it takes time to create form and substance out of chaos. Viewable impressions, online gross rating points and some agreement on just what “engagement” means can and will have huge implications on the overall amount of advertising dollars spent in the digital world.

That being said, the biggest drag on this effort is ignorance. Most of the time, this ignorance is not willful but simply the outgrowth of the complexity mentioned above. In any case, we have to find a way through this. We have to educate the full spectrum of the ecosystem in a radically more complete and substantive way. Many of the issues that our industry faces are a direct effect of this ignorance.

All too often, key players in the space are either underinformed or completely lacking in knowledge about the core issues surrounding digital advertising, such as measurement, viewability or even something as basic as where the actual ads are placed as a result of using a demand-side platform or trading desk. This has helped black-hat bad actors make millions of dollars a day while providing no real benefit in return as marketing messages run on questionable to outright bad sites, run below in nonviewable positions or are counted when in fact they were simply viewed by a machine and not an actual human.

The Best Metrics?

Here is a look at some of the core issues that industry players need to better understand.

Clicks: Are clicks the best metric for online advertising success? Clearly not, but yet a great number of campaigns are not only valued on clicks, but are optimized for clicks. This practice often results in disastrous spending increases to bot traffic, which hurts everyone except for the black-hat operators from Eastern Europe.

Suspect traffic: In general, suspect traffic is a big issue that is only getting bigger. In fact, it may be the biggest issue facing the digital ecosystem today.

Viewability: This will be somewhat helpful on several fronts, such as focusing attention on premium positions within quality sites that have great environments. It’s a lot to get out of one practice, yes, but is entirely possible if it is enforced in the proper way.

Engagement: This is perhaps the most illusionary of the goals here. That’s not because it is specious, but because we have yet to fully define what we want this word to mean when it comes to digital advertising. Companies such as MOAT and Integral Ad Science, among others, work hard to suggest definitions and processes for engagement in an effort to focus the industry on a meaningful metric and away from the click. If we get this right, it could have a huge impact on moving brand spending online at a much greater velocity.

There is still another metric – initially dismissed, by myself included – that could prove incredibly meaningful in increasing digital ad spending: gross or target rating points.

Early thinking around this metric was that it was an imprecise measurement. And in a world of one-to-one communications, it truly is, but it turns out that real advertising -- the notion of creating the idea of need and want in a consumer’s mind -- is spectacularly imprecise as well. GRPs and the more refined target rating points have long been the language of the marketer and, since we are vying for their dollars, it makes sense to adopt at least some of their metrics.

It is understandable that many are underinformed on these and other issues in this general space. What is surprising though, and at times disillusioning, is the total lack of understanding around the need for these issues to be addressed by so many participants in our marketplace.

To some extent, this is sadly intentional and logical. After all, if you are profiting by the lack of understanding of others, you are less likely to want total illumination. Our problem here is the lack of desire to dig in and get informed by the folks most negatively affected.

A Way Forward

I believe the two groups most hurt by this gap as are those who fund the advertising and those who fund the content and features that drive real eyeballs to that advertising.

To that end, I would love to see a symposium, confab or roundtable convened where all legitimate points of this ecosystem’s compass come together. There should be a fulsome discussion of the issues and their effect, followed by dialogue on how to best address the issues in the timeliest fashion. My hope is that with illumination everyone will become actively involved in getting things done fast, with a full understanding of the implications and goals of the actions agreed upon.

The IAB has done a great job of getting the ball rolling, but this effort still needs help.  Too few of the members of our digital advertising community understand what is going on here, how the initial efforts will help, and what can be done next to truly allow digital advertising to take its undisputed place as the single best platform for communication any kind, including advertising.

Follow Jim Spanfeller (@JimSpanfeller) and AdExchanger (@adexchanger) on Twitter.


  1. Great article Jim! At comScore we're in agreement that a number of the metrics you mention are ones that the industry absolutely needs to better understand. We're taking measurement of these metrics seriously and have become MRC accredited for viewable impressions and are the ONLY company currently accredited for the type of mouse-over engagement you mention here. Getting the baseline metrics right so they can be converted into metrics like GRPs so that marketers can compare across all platforms is a critical part of the process.

  2. I totally agree Jim. It's hard to get organisations to understand this though especially when, like you say, there are many players who deliberately, whether maliciously or not, profit from keeping it simple and focusing on one, easy to achieve, metric. It makes complete sense that everything should be measured centrally and evaluated against meaninful metrics but it's not always easy to persuade the client they should invest in an adserver, tag managment, analytics, streamline their media suppliers, control their data and so on. It's also complex to put all this together in a meaninful way even with appropriate client buy-in. It's the right approach but it's hardcore and I wonder if the full stack offerings from serious players like IBM, Google and Adobe combined with the resources and expertise in selling complex services of an Accenture or a Mckinsey might well come to the fore over the next few years. Whether smaller advertisers can benefit from the same integrated approach without the clout of big budgets is another matter.


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