The advertising industry needs bravery and innovation

A hand drawn graph on a piece of paper.
A hand drawn graph on a piece of paper.
The way of the future: advertisers banding together to create a measurement system

I think the big challenge for advertisers in the next 6 months, maybe the next 2 years, will be staying brave.

It’s going to be really easy to cut down on discretionary spending, to pull the ad budget because things are getting a little tight or a little murky. But I’d argue, because a lot of people are going to be doing that, that this is the perfect time to double down and be brave about your advertising and marketing plans.

You’ll need to be brave to go against the flow of the masses. But last time I checked, following the crowd wasn’t the key to success. Some businesses will have no choice. And I get that, and it’s not meant to be a criticism of them. But if you do have a choice, I’d urge you to be brave. Of course, I realise that this call to action may look a lot like self-interest given the nature of my work but it is truly what I believe.

Digital media has added to the confusion

There is no doubt digital media has made things challenging — at least from a measurement point of view. People used to understand how media works and now some can’t grasp why digital doesn’t work the same way. Digital has fragmented the audience and I can’t see the genie ever going back in the bottle.

For example: in Australian television you’re comparing audiences of 500,000 plus. You used to be able to measure that quite well by counting a panel of 10,000 households.

The challenge that digital has brought, as well as a proliferation of TV options, is that there’s no longer a ready abundance of large sized clusters or segments of audience. That half-million person segment from yesterday has become 50 segments of 10,000 people and it’s infinitely harder to measure!

People used to understand how media works and now some can’t grasp why digital doesn’t work the same way.

When digital media arrived, we needed a different methodology than the ones that suited traditional television or newspapers. It demanded we use something like web analytics since we needed to get accurate data coming from every device as these small pockets of audience couldn’t be measured by a panel methodology. So, digital measurement evolved from that end of the spectrum — where we now have web analytics tools that do an amazing job of recording the device and details of what every single person is watching.

Census measurement is great for telling us what is being watched, but we don’t know anything about that person. With traditional panel measurement, we have the panellists’ data (and thus know a lot about the person), but we lack the scale to be able to measure all the smaller audience segments accurately.

We need consistent advocates and consistent innovation

CMOs have lambasted digital and TV together for not being able to set up proper measurement systems, but it’s not been a consistent enough push. It’s an occasional grumpy response at corporates, and there’s been no real plan.

No one is putting their hand in their pocket and saying, “You know what, we’ve got to invest in new measurement, it’s not good enough the way it is.”

It’s further exacerbated in that the firms who historically would be devising measurement methodologies simply don’t seem to have the money to invest. Once upon a time, companies like Nielsen, GfK and Kantar would invest heavily in developing great new measurement methodologies for TV because they knew the industry would sign a 7-year-contract and they’d make their money back over that period of time. No one seems all that keen to be handing out 7-year-contracts for cross media measurement and none of these firms have the money to invest ahead of the curve. Those firms understandably can’t afford to take the risk and none of us should be expecting them to.

Quote from Stuart Pike of Google on the need for advertisers to work together on measurement.
Quote from Stuart Pike of Google on the need for advertisers to work together on measurement.

They don’t innovate as quickly as they used to and unfairly, they’re the first to get the blame for not innovating fast enough! But this costs money, and everybody is waiting for someone else to make a move. No one is putting their hand in their pocket and saying, you know what, we’ve got to invest in new measurement, it’s not good enough the way it is.

Nobody can afford to innovate but some people are trying

Every media market is grappling with how to do this. The most promising examples I’m aware of are found in Germany, the US and Japan but I’m sure there are others that I’m not as familiar with.

  • Germany has AGF who have now incorporated YouTube into TV measurement systems. It’s not perfect, but it’s getting closer to an apples-to-apples comparison of at least one digital entity and expanding to cover all digital measurement.
  • In the US, Nielsen has been working towards its well-publicised total content ratings for some time now and the assumption is that it will eventually make its way to other Nielsen TV markets.
  • Closest to home for us in APAC is Japan though and what Intage is doing is fascinating. For starters they have a single source panel that measures TV and all digital devices. The data set is really useful and provides measurements of 40,000–50,000 individuals. Combine that with census measurement of digital devices and there are a lot of tasty ingredients for some pretty cool cross media measurement.

The way of the future: advertisers banding together to create the system

There are definitely complications from a technical point of view that we’re still trying to solve. However, I honestly think the real reason this kind of true measurement has been slow to roll out is, as Kantar’s Andy Brown put so nicely, “politics and money”. There’s a fear and loathing aspect that we see when traditional media looks at digital media and digital media looks at traditional media. There needs to be a thaw in relationships for it to work.

To have an efficient advertising and measurement market, it doesn’t have to be government mandated. It just has to be an agreed body that’s representative of all players. I believe the only body who can really make a single source of truth measurement system happen is the advertisers themselves.

They’re the ones let down by the system at the moment. And I can say that — I’m part of a marketing team, I work with advertisers. I feel like I know advertisers and their pain points all too well. And I can say the cross-media measurement and planning systems just aren’t that good at the moment, even the first party ones. But until we start putting our money somewhere else and forcing the action, the system is going to ignore the users.

To have an efficient advertising and measurement market, it doesn’t have to be government mandated. It just has to be an agreed body that’s representative of all players.

Unfortunately, advertisers are in a tough place, but we need them to stand up. If they don’t spend the money to research and innovate and set the standard, if they don’t use their money to wave the flag about what they do and don’t like (to force others into action), then everyone is just going to talk about it and not do it for the next 10 years just like we have the last 10 years. Everyone will pay lip service to the need for new systems but not actually do it.

We need innovation. We need bravery. And until we have these things, the advertising industry is going to continue to live with broken measurement and hollow rhetoric.

About the Author

Stuart Pike is Director of Consumer and Market Insights for Google, Asia-Pacific. He leads the team who try to understand what is going on in the market and uncover the ‘why’ of consumer behavior. You can start a conversation with him here, or on LinkedIn and Twitter.

Google’s Director of Market Insights in Asia Pacific

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