A paradigm shift for digital measurement

Simon Kvist Gaulshøj, ‎global publisher director at Audience Project

As scalable, fast and cost efficient technologies emerge, the digital industry’s massive insight gap of understanding the ”who factor” in digital campaigns will be filled. Audience measurement on digital campaigns will no longer be reserved for large volume campaigns – it will become the industry standard to measure audiences on all digital campaigns.

When the world saw the first online advertisement back in October 1994, it marked the birth of an industry. Counting only advertising agencies, it counts over 40,000 businesses, occupies over 500,000 people and generates over $200bn in global revenues. More or less all digital media is traded and reported on the basis of two metrics: impressions and clicks. For 25 years those metrics have served as the currency for digital measurement. Now viewabilitiy has been adopted as a third metric, but just like impressions and clicks, viewability is just one factor in an effective campaign. It is a useful metric but does not add up as a be-all and end-all goal for marketers.

The missing “who factor”

The usual metrics are increasingly becoming inadequate, as digital media today is not bought on impressions, but on audiences. That constitutes a dysfunctional relationship between what advertisers buy (audiences) and what is reported back to them (impressions). Impressions are bought as a means to achieve the real goal – to get their advertising message in front of the right people.

While the ”impression” is a great technical concept for measuring how many times an ad has been rendered on page, it says nothing whatsoever about who and how many people (maybe) sees the ad. E.g. if you are buying 1m impressions with a target audience of people with toddlers, you want to know how precisely your investment actually reached the intended target group. What was the profile of the people who saw the ad? How many people saw the ad across devices and media? How many of them were in target group? What was the affinity on the campaign? What was the reach in target group achieved? What was the real frequency? Answers to those questions are being demanded from various global advertisers, Marc Pritchard from Procter & Gamble has been the most vocal about it. He says: “How many people are really seeing these ads?”

It essentially means the ”who factor” of digital campaigns represents a massive insight gap for the industry. Buyers don’t know what they are buying, and sellers don’t know what they are selling. And planners are relying their decision making on occasional drive-by research tactics. The risk of not knowing is that we are taking less informed decisions every day on behalf of the companies paying for the party. And perhaps even worse, it holds us back as an industry to learn, improve and grow.

A paradigm shift for online research

Audience measurement on digital campaigns has historically been reserved for large volume digital campaigns, leaving most campaigns not being measured at all. My estimate is that on 90%+ of the worlds digital campaigns, there is no element of real audience measurement. From a publisher point of view we are talking north of 99% of campaigns not having the audiences exposed measured.

Not because buyers and sellers do not agree that measuring audiences as well as impressions is fundamental for understanding if a media investment was worthwhile or not. But rather, because the research industry (until now) has not succeeded to deliver scalable, fast and cost efficient solutions to measure the audience on all digital campaigns.

The average research cost of conducting an audience measurement on a digital campaign has often exceeded the average media cost of a digital campaign, and as a result it could not be justified. However, those days are over and the classic research industry stands to be disrupted.

With connected live panels of real people, ecosystems of data and machine learning technologies, a new opportunity presents itself to our industry. It enables us to verify the audiences seeing and engaging in all digital campaigns being run. It completely changes the game of digital measurement, as advertisers care about people who engage in their branded messages, and not so much about the concept of impressions.

Across the advertising industry, including creative agencies, media agencies, and media owners, those who act proactively to ensure reliable and consistent measurement of audiences, viewability, non human traffic and brand safety will enjoy trust and long lasting relationships with their clients. It is now a matter for buyers and sellers to take on the oath of transparency and join the path of progress.

As Pritchard says ” The days of giving digital a pass are over – it’s time to grow up. It’s time for action.”

Simon Kvist Gaulshøj is global publisher director at Audience Project.