On Origin

ISBA (the UK advertisers’ trade organisation) is on the hunt for a CEO for Origin, the third in the project’s comparatively short history. I am a fan of Origin, or rather what Origin could become – unlike some in the audience measurement community. Here’s why.

ISBA is, along with its sister organisations the WFA and the ANA driving a cross-media measurement initiative. Origin is the UK version of this although the key principles apply equally elsewhere.

I think this represents an important crossroad in the history of media measurement. In the past, audience measurement was a) driven by the media vendors, who paid the majority of the bill and b) focussed on intra-media matters such as the relative size of the audience to particular vehicles.

As such, audience measures were very largely about the determination of value. In ad circles that meant buying.

This was, and is a neat system, that’s still of great benefit today. All sides agree on how to measure audiences; all sides are thus free to argue about how best to spend the budget within the medium without concerning themselves over-much with the merits or otherwise of competing research methodologies (and yes, I know what’s happening in the US at the moment, but the point still holds).

Now we’re finally moving on to compliment these buying measures with measures designed to help us understand how media forms work in combination.

Audience measurement was not and never has been about communications planning. Yes, BARB and the others provide important and verifiable building blocks in the construction of the plan but they’re of little help when it comes to planning decisions.

How to decide what budget to allocate between video and audio? Between OOH and YouTube? And far more significantly between advertising and PR, or in-store and sponsorships?

These are matters of little concern to vendors who have prioritised growing their slice of the cake over baking a larger cake in the first place. You can’t blame them for that – why should a TV broadcaster fund a system which may end up costing them ad revenue?

They are matters of concern to agencies – but again agencies’ focus has been on buying over planning, as we all know. This is changing as choices proliferate and more media becomes biddable.

These planning questions matter to advertisers. Insights can help guide and justify decisions on the big questions. The data generated can feed into own systems, the proprietary models that combine advertiser data with exposure adjusted for quality.

I don’t have any inside knowledge on the vision for Origin, or on its roadmap but if you’re about to eat an elephant it really does make an awful lot of sense to tackle it one small bite at a time.

Phil Smith, ISBA’s DG used to be a client of mine and I can tell you he’s very good at elephant-carving.

It makes sense to tackle the whole consolidate-video-viewing question first. How to combine FB video with YouTube with TikTok with streaming with linear TV (et al) is important.

But it’s an amuse-bouche, not the whole meal.

This longer-term, big-picture vision is why a levy is the best funding mechanism out there. Set up a system where a tiny % of every budget goes into a pot that funds Origin and you’ve in effect established a sustainable R&D fund to benefit all ISBA members.

Origin can initiate planning-focussed projects without constantly having to go through the nightmare of funding each in turn.

Establish an oversight Board to approve projects, and an operations team to deliver to them, supported by external experts and a research agency roster.

Some of my audience measurement friends argue that advertisers’ effectiveness models are by their very nature proprietary and thus not fertile ground for any industry initiative. I think that’s incorrect.

You still need the planning bricks. The parallel would be the outstanding work done by Peter Field and Les Binet over the years using IPA Ad Effectiveness (and other similar studies’) data.

No-one takes Peter’s and Les’ aggregated findings and leaves it at that. That work informs and fuels proprietary work appropriate to each specific advertiser.

Origin is a big idea and represents a major opportunity for the industry. It places advertisers at the heart of thinking around the future of audience measurement, it encourages research agencies to think outside the intra-media currency box, it helps vendors contextualise their offering, it genuinely moves the game on.

It won’t be easy, it will be politically fraught, the funding needs to be right, but in an era defined by planning driving trading, and not the other way around, Origin has the potential to be at the heart of a significant shift in understanding how commercial communication works, and how it can be made to work better.

  1. Great article Brian, Origin makes absolute sense and can lay the groundwork for an ever more complex comms world.

  2. Thanks Marie and I hope you’re keeping well!

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