We’re 25 years into the digital advertising era, which claimed to revolutionize how we measure and account for the effect of ad exposure, and guess what? Many campaigns still rely on the most rudimentary of metrics: the click and the impression.
Of course, everyone claims to know that clicks are simple exposures, and even when they are legit and viewable, don’t necessarily represent impact, depth of attention, or engagement—let alone conversation. Yet, here we are.
As George Musi, chief data, analytics & insights officer at agency Blue 449 explains, there are some immutable priorities in advertising—no matter how you measure things.
“Fundamentally, we still have to get to reaching the right audience enough times,” he tells Folio:. “We can’t supersede that. The only way to build brand equity and brand performance is to get in front of the right person enough times so it cuts through.”
Some publishers, however, continue to yank and pull their ad clients beyond piling up reach and frequency of impressions towards deeper attention metrics. Leveraging audiences’ behaviors at scale and in meaningful ways that measure the depth of attention is the new game that’s aimed to satisfy an old need. And there have been several recent projects from major publishers that purport to do just that.
Jumpstart Automotive Media, a division of Hearst Autos, used its insight into behaviors across over a dozen auto sites (20 million uniques) to measure the impact of an ad campaign it wasn’t even running. The company measured the online impact of Toyota’s “Start Your Impossible” series of spots that launched at the Olympic Games’ opening ceremony.
This “path to purchase report” showed that the campaign lifted shopper interest in the Toyota brand 19 percent during the opening weekend of the games. Before the campaign, Toyota had a six-percent share of shopper interest in the network of sites, which rose to 7.15 percent after the campaign launched.
“We take a look at our audience in terms of unique visitor volume and compare it against other [original equipment manufacturers (OEM)], compare it to other shopper volume —de-duplicated so you are only counting them once,” says Libby Murad-Patel, VP of marketing and strategic insights at Jumpstart. “We look at their full range of behaviors and what share are looking for that brand.”
Jumpstart clients don’t generally optimize campaigns against these Path to Purchase Reports quite yet. Murad-Patel says most still use a cost-per-lead performance metric. But many are incorporating these metrics into their dashboards and monthly reviews.
“I think we have many clients who are really progressive in the way they are thinking about the broader world of success metrics,” she says.
To be sure, Jumpstart represents a unique content category with properties such as Car and Driver and research sources like J.D. Power and Autobytel. Still, its success in prodding advertisers to move beyond clicks and views shows the deeper data that can come from properly constructed content experiences. And these are metrics and quantifiable understanding about the consumer that is unavailable to OEMs at their own site or even through the major platforms.
“There are a number of advertisers that try to dig in deeper and they understand that as a third-party publisher we see a lot more behavior than what they see on their sites,” says Murad-Patel.
As advertisers come to see how complex and non-linear the consumer path to purchase and the brand loyalty curves really are, specialty networks like Jumpstart can capture the cross-shopping behaviors that show how shoppers are no longer neatly descending a “funnel” towards a purchase decision, so much as moving up and down, narrowing and widening the consideration set.
“Share of interest and cross-shopping are extremely valuable to them,” says Murad-Patel. “Who is looking at your brand versus those doing heavy research on another brand? Who are the really loyal consumers versus those with the potential to defect?”
While reach, frequency and, yes, even the lowly click, are still foremost in many advertisers’ minds, it’s up to the publishers to make the hard sell for a new way of thinking, says John Campbell, SVP, global sales at National Geographic, whose media assets are now controlled by a Fox-led partnership. “Especially at Fox and the Advanced Advertising Products group, we have gotten ahead of that and started to bring metrics to them.”
Case in point, Campbell says their most popular ad format is the “engagement unit” that lets an online TV episode viewer opt out of the usual digital ad load and into a shorter experience up front. “It’s 100 percent opt-in, 100 percent share of voice, 100 percent bot-free,” he says. “What makes it interesting is that it is more than watching a trailer. It is a choose your own adventure. We are seeing people spend much more than 60 seconds on the unit when we create the content.” And the unit allows for deeper metrics like engagement and consumption rates.
“We have seen a 600-percent increase in video revenue from two years ago,” says Campbell, as National Geographic has poured more of its linear TV content online while also wrapping it in newer ad opportunities. “We are seeing 80 percent sell-through rates—a lot of it due to new types of innovations,” he says.
National Geographic is also leveraging its unrivaled social reach to move beyond simple impression metrics with a social media rate card. The opportunities include products like the “Moment,” where National Geographic focuses on noted celebrations like International Women’s Day and works with a client to co-produce content across the social channels.
“We see over 100 million impressions just on that day alone,” Campbell says. “We can create our own Super Bowl any day.”
National Geographic also recently launched its “Social Shows,” branded content it distributes for inaugural clients like BMW across its social channels. Campbell admits that most of these new formats still trade in old-fashioned impressions, but that is slowly changing.
“There are a lot of discussions with agencies and clients based on their wanting us to get to more of an engagement model,” he says. We have to do some education in the market.”
The next step beyond engagement, however, is being able to tie impressions, brand lift, and the usual metrics around impact to the bottom line. As CEOs demand more precise accountability for marketing costs and media spend of their CMOs, publishers need to build towards that goal with measurements that prove a return on investment that reaches beyond reach and frequency, and onto the store shelves.
“What are the business outcome metrics outside of traditional brand studies?” asks Campbell. When a client like Stella Artois engages National Geographic for ads or branded content, how many more bottles of beer is that helping the manufacturer sell through? “We are working on that right now and will roll it out in coming months.”
While we talk a lot about a “new” attention economy and the metrics around it, advertising’s basic functionality has always been around capturing consumer interest and getting them to stop and look. “The old is new again,” says Musi. “I don’t know when attention was not a good thing.”
Ultimately, it’s still about getting a consumer to stop long enough for a message to make an impact, both on the user and eventually on the advertiser’s business. Publishers need to not only bring deeper metrics at scale to the game, but also communicate a better understanding of how audiences work within their publishing environments.
“What does that environment lend itself to?” Musi asks. “What are they looking for from the content or did the content put them in that mood or mindset? We need to work with publishers to give us an example of who this audience is and will this audience feel and think differently in their environment than they might at The New York Times.”