Audience Measurement – Enter the Advertiser. Part 2: Who Pays?

The last Cog Blog post referenced the announcement made at the 2019 asi TV and Video Conference in Prague by Phil Smith, Director General at the UK advertiser association ISBA of an advertiser-driven intervention in audience measurement via a cross-media initiative called Origin.

Phil’s paper marked a significant moment in arguing for an ‘always on’ measure of audiences, cross-media.

Advertisers have traditionally sat outside the various debates around how the industry should measure audiences, in much the same way that they have until recently not engaged in other more commercial aspects of how media is bought and sold.

But no more.

The ISBA initiative seems a natural next step along a road marked by milestones of trust and transparency, in-housing, walled gardens and data controversies. A greater advertiser involvement in audience measurement seems an inevitable progression.

One outstanding issue is around what a famous English comedian from bygone days referred to as ‘the sordid business of coin’.

Advertisers need to contribute more, both financially and intellectually to the audience measurement world.

Consider the alternatives.

Agencies can’t agree amongst themselves on anything. This has always been the case – others might remember the suggestion that UK agencies combine to create a competitor to Kantar Media’s TGI. One of many initiatives that went nowhere.

Video and audio broadcasters / print and online publishers / OOH vendors have a naturally limited interest in funding anything not directly related to their own media channels. Let alone anything that threatens to assist revenue drift to Google, Facebook et al.

The platforms seem to be managing fine as things stand. The risk to them is being exposed as less effective than (say) TV if the rules created by BARB were applied to them.

Research companies? Why would they risk creating something without a guaranteed end-client?

Then ask yourself who benefits from an independent cross-media measurement system? Those who buy, that’s who.

So – the advertisers need to pay, or at the very least persuade everyone else to stump up the cash, which will be nigh on impossible to do without someone ceding control.

That is why I am proposing a levy on adspend to fund independent, advertiser-driven audience measurement.

This is not such a weird idea.

In the UK we have ASBOF (the Advertising Standards Board of Finance) that in effect funds the industry’s self-regulatory service via a levy and has done so successfully since 1975.

As a planner I remember adding the 0.1% to all press campaigns, and explaining the benefits of self-regulation (speed, flexibility, avoidance of legal costs etc) to my advertisers.

So why wouldn’t a levy work as a means to fund audience measurement?

Isn’t it a bit niche, a tad arcane? No, not really. Advertisers and the agencies they employ clearly need independent, verifiable, reliable data to help them plan, buy and evaluate campaigns.

In an era of fake news and made-up data / facts this becomes more important than ever before.

What we have now, via the JICS is outstanding currency data for use in trading. Where are the cross-media planning initiatives? (Before someone writes to me about Touchpoints – an excellent initiative in many ways – it’s UK only, and measures a snapshot in a time of great dynamism in media).

TGI? 50 years old this year and yes a great idea of its time.

Surely it’s time for a fresh look; to build on the work that’s already out there and to give priority to developing planning tools that sit on top of the trading currencies?

An audience measurement levy has been tried before, as far as I can gather with success in South Africa. Why not in the UK as a way of funding the ISBA initiative and, if it works then export it globally via the WFA?

Total UK adspend is around US$30,000 million (I avoid using the word ‘billions’ as it just confuses me).

0.1% (the ASBOF benchmark) is therefore $30 million. It would be unrealistic to expect a 100% success rate for the levy (collecting ASBOF has never been 100% successful) but it does seem reasonable to apply it to all media forms (ASBOF is press only).

But even at a 25% success rate (pessimistic) that still generates a ‘fighting fund’ of $7.5 million.

I know that BARB alone costs in the US$10’s of millions, but we’re not talking about replicating or replacing BARB, rather what’s being proposed is an advertiser-driven initiative to provide an industry-wide planning framework for cross-media decision-making.

The audience measurement business has done a wonderful job measuring intra-media audiences for use in buying. It has largely ignored inter-media initiatives designed to assist in planning.

But in a time of ever-greater complexity we need to move the debate forward.

The only group in a position to do this are the advertisers (as the beneficiaries of better media planning decision-making).

The cleanest and neatest way of funding is via a levy.

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