State of Digital Commerce
1. For better or worse, Comscore has been closely identified over the past 20 years with the measurement and verification of web traffic and audiences. As the herd moves to mobile devices and addressable TV, how much does that challenge your position?
While mobile measurement certainly presents a unique set of challenges, it has ultimately represented a significant opportunity for Comscore. It has allowed us to pioneer new methods for measuring digital audiences that have ultimately resulted in successful mobile and cross-platform measurement products.
Using new technological approaches that combine Comscore’s panels with census data obtained directly from more than a million web domains, we’ve built Media Metrix® Multi-Platform, an expanded version of our industry-leading Media Metrix® product, which measures unduplicated audiences across desktop, smartphones and tablets. It’s also able to separate and identify mobile traffic that comes via an app versus a browser, which is particularly important because 80% of mobile engagement occurs via apps. Media Metrix Multi-Platform is possibly the fastest growing new service we’ve ever introduced and to the best of my knowledge it’s the only such service out there.
Its importance can be seen by the fact that slightly more than 50% of consumer time online today is spent using a smartphone or tablet. Interestingly, however, there’s no evidence that time spent on desktops has declined -- just its share of time. But it’s not a zero sum game. It’s now clear that the more Internet-enabled devices someone has, the more time they spend online.
Beyond just digital, we are also now able to measure across traditional media platforms, including TV and radio. The challenge of measuring unduplicated audiences across all platforms is something that ESPN first asked us to solve more than two years ago. The result was “Project Blueprint”, where we measure the audiences for five platforms – radio, TV, desktop, phone and tablet. Again we had to develop new measurement technology to make it a reality. The system is now in the process of being syndicated beyond ESPN and we have high hopes for its potential.
2. I’ve heard it said that your Comscore validated Campaign Essentials™ (vCE®) tools (and Nielsen’s competitive OCR standard) are leading us toward a multi-device GRP. That’s too simplistic, isn’t it?
I’m a believer in the GRP as a media planning tool. Some confuse it as an ad effectiveness metric, which it isn’t. I think the GRP is important because it provides media planners and buyers with a measure of what will be said, to how many target people, how often. But the GRP doesn’t measure effectiveness. For that one has to do A/B testing or run market mix models or do branding survey research. So, yes, Comscore is intent on providing multi-device GRP measurement. In fact, we do that today.
But there’s another dimension to the GRP that I think is critical and which we also provide. One can’t just measure the audience for each device in a silo. One needs to know the unduplicated audience across every combination of devices at the content level. And build this knowledge into the GRP metric. Only then can one know what the true delivered frequency is and the degree to which incremental eyeballs can be reached across devices. I don’t know of a media planner or analyst who wouldn’t say that those are critical things to know.
3. Comscore lit up the IAB Annual meeting a couple of years ago with a call to arms about viewability. What’s improved since then, if anything?
While Comscore was out in front on the issue of viewability at the IAB annual meeting in 2012, I think it’s important to recognize that we were responding to an imperative put forward by the 3MS initiative (“Making Measurement Make Sense”) from the IAB, the ANA the 4As and the MRC. These four trade bodies that represent the digital ad ecosystem – publishers, advertisers, agencies and the accreditation body – called for a measure of viewability and we at Comscore were delighted to be able to respond with some of the early insights, research and technological advancements that helped usher in this new era of accountability.
What may not have been clear at the time was that because viewability metrics focused on the media buyers, it initially put media sellers at a disadvantage in negotiations. So we responded to the need from the sell-side for viewability tools to assist in optimizing inventory, and launched our Comscore validated Media Essentials™ (vME™) product. This has helped re-establish a basis on which buyers and sellers can both derive the benefits of optimizing around viewable inventory.
Today, I think that viewability is on its way to becoming accepted as a key metric that can help put digital on an equal footing with TV. After all, if an ad impression isn’t in-view it has no chance of affecting consumer behavior. “Opportunity to view” has long been accepted in traditional media (both TV and print) as a fundamentally important metric and by adding it to digital I believe we can help the industry capture a greater share of branding advertising. We need to remember that performance-based advertising (search, etc.) still dominates digital, accounting for two-thirds of all ad revenue. If digital is to capture more branding ad dollars, I’m convinced it has to “think” more like branding advertisers and use the same metrics. For example, in TV it’s long been a reality that audience guarantees are to be expected. If the buyer doesn’t get what he/she paid for in the upfronts, then free make-goods are provided. I’ve had some of the largest TV advertisers in the world tell me that they expect to see the same thing in digital if they’re to move more of their ad spending there, so I fully expect that audience guarantees of target demos and viewability will become the norm in digital in the near future. Viewability has another benefit in that it has also helped shine a spotlight on fraud, because if the ad is delivered to a “bot” instead of a person it’s deemed to be not in-view. I think that’s healthy because the more we can focus on, and reduce digital fraud, the better the prospects for digital branding ad spending.
4. Programmatic, exchange-based ad trading has been with us for close to five years now. Are you impressed yet?
I’m very impressed by the ability of programmatic to lower transaction costs for both buyers and sellers of advertising, but it also comes with some of its own challenges. From a seller’s perspective there’s the legitimate concern about whether programmatic on an open auction-based exchange will result in lower prices. Perhaps a private exchange is the answer there. There’s also the question of whether the audience bought on the open exchanges is really what’s claimed. At Comscore, we’ve seen many cases where the demographics reached (using a cookie-based delivery) are off-target. Typically this happens because the targeting cookie can’t accurately identify who is on the computer at any point in time. Real-time in-flight campaign optimization systems like our vCE suite appear to help significantly by providing the information an agency needs to adjust the media plan while it’s still running. In fact, Kellogg’s reports an improvement of 5X or more in their digital ROI since implementing vCE. There’s one final big issue with the exchanges, which is the prevalence of non-human traffic (NHT). We’ve seen the in-view rates for ad impressions be much lower on the exchanges than on the premium sites, with a large proportion of that being caused by ads being delivered to bots not people. The answer there might be for the buyers on the exchanges to insist on minimum viewability rates.
5. The biggest existential threat to a healthy digital ad ecosystem is….what?
Beyond the fraud issue that I mentioned above – and which we urgently need to solve – I think the actions of legislators could have an unanticipated collateral chill on the industry. Legislators have a difficult task of protecting consumers in a way that does not put onerous and un-needed rules in place that could kill the golden goose of anonymous targeted advertising. I’m a big believer in protection of consumer privacy and tighter security of consumer data, but I think we need to consider carefully whether anonymous targeting of ads based upon non-PI data is something that we need to worry about. From my perspective, it’s secure and it provides consumers with advertising that’s more tailored to their interests, while providing advertisers with higher sales lifts for which they are then willing to pay publishers a higher CPM or CPC. Everyone wins.
Well, I’m not sure it’s something completely independent of digital media. But, I’ve been in the behavioral measurement business for more than 40 years and I think that gives me a rather unique perspective of how advertising and promotion work -- across all media and industries. For example, back in the 80s I was measuring the effectiveness of TV advertising in lifting sales using targetable cable TV research systems. In the 80s and 90s when I was the CEO of IRI we built the first national POS scanner systems in the US and Europe to measure consumer buying behavior and the impact on sales of advertising, promotions and price incentives. I think that experience gives me a broad historical perspective on how brand and direct response marketing works and the interplay between advertising, promotion and price that can be used in digital media. Ted McConnell at P&G once said: “We need to understand the truths that transcend change.” I think that’s a great point in today’s dynamic digital media world. When all is said and done, we’re still trying to communicate with consumers so as to build and enhance brands. Yes, digital provides us with many new media capabilities, but in addition I think we need to remember the marketing lessons of yesteryear that still apply today.
6. Tell us something you read or do – something that has nothing directly to do with our business – that gives you the perspective and clarity to make sense of this crazy, seat-of-the-pants digital media world.
This post was originally published on Upstream Group on 6/4/2014.
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