First principles: the WFA's cross media initiative
Common definitions of contact and the willingness of advertisers to directly fund measurement systems will determine the success of the WFA’s newly-announced Cross-Media initiative, argues Research The Media’s Richard Marks
Today the global advertising industry came together to announce a Cross Media Working Group that will establish principles to guide cross-media measurement around the world.
The group will aim to establish principles for planning and trading across media and importantly across international markets.
It's an initiative that is very much to be welcomed. The media eco-system becomes ever more complex, with sources of data ever more varied and contradictory, so advertisers speaking with one voice to make clear what they want is really helpful for those of us involved in the development of measurement systems for planning and trading.
This announcement ties together a number of initiatives which have been underway including those from EGTA (the body for European commercial broadcasters), the MRC who oversee the quality of currency measurement in the States, and ongoing debates at the asi annual conferences over many years.
Whilst welcoming the initiative, I would make a personal plea related to two specific topics, one covered by the announcement, one conspicuous by its absence.
As the announcement confirms, a recommendation is needed on what the comparable metrics across media will be – what is the unit of currency that can work across all media? It is important that we distinguish between cross-platform measurement (tracking a medium like video across different platforms and devices) and cross-media measurement: comparing viewing, listening and reading. The latter has been the advertisers’ holy grail for many decades, even before digital disruption.
When it comes to video viewing across platforms, comparable metrics should be within reach and this is the first focus of the MRC initiative in the States (referenced in the announcement), which has already set minimum duration and visibility guidelines for video metrics.
However, when it comes to comparing, for example a 15 second radio ad, a 30 second TV ad, a two page display ad in Vogue and a digital billboard campaign, can a common agreed definition of a contact be found? If that definition is simply a reductive measure of time exposure, I would be concerned as we have decades of research to indicate that all media contacts are not equal. Guidelines on metrics that take account of how impact varies across media type and platform will be essential.
The second challenge is more fundamental: who will pay for the systems these principles are being designed to guide? Individual currencies have already invested significantly to achieve cross-platform measurement of their media, but the benefits of cross-media measurement to media owners – who mostly fund measurement - will not be as obvious.
There will be winners and losers and it is unlikely that cross-media measurement will grow the overall ‘pie’ of ad expenditure, not least as the objective of any cross-media system is surely to make media spend more efficient.
So these guidelines will be hugely helpful in framing what is needed, but a real conversation is needed about the degree to which the advertisers and agencies are willing to put their money on the table to then achieve their objectives.
The announcement references separate measurement initiatives from ISBA in the UK and ANA in the States, so it will be interesting to understand the scope and the funding for these initiatives when they are announced. Rumours of an ISBA UK initiative on video measurement have been circulating in recent months.
Advertisers argue that they already indirectly fund the ‘siloed’ currencies as media owners rely on advertising for revenue. However, that argument breaks down when it comes to cross-media measurement. Will advertisers and agencies be willing to directly fund the cross-media systems these guidelines are designed to inform? Are they willing to put their hands in their pockets to reach their holy grail?
If you are keen to understand and debate these issues, the upcoming asi International Video & Audio conference in Prague will be welcoming Phil Smith of ISBA to expand on this WFA initiative and Nick Slaymaker of Mediacom who will be setting the measurement community a cross-media challenge.
Richard Marks is owner of Research The Media