Politics in Measurement

Opening one of the sessions at last November’s asi Conference in Nice, Richard Marks (who, with Mike Sainsbury does a sterling job putting the event together each year) made the point that he has never known a time when the politics of measurement is so all-pervasive.

He’s right – and it is disturbing.

The job of any advisor must be, first and foremost to do the best for his or her client. ‘The best’ doesn’t mean simply telling the client what he or she wants to hear, nor is it ignoring the harder road in favour of the short-cut.

And yet this happens increasingly often, even within what was the hermetically sealed world of audience measurement.

Delivering ‘the best’ involves honesty and integrity.

Take the issues over the years of the social media platforms. I don’t believe anyone seriously believes some of the audience measurement claims made by the largest players. No-one really thinks that a 1 or 2 second commercial message can do anything beyond the most basic reminder job. No-one believes that campaigns using social media channels aren’t influenced, for good or ill by brand messages appearing outside the magic SM circle.

No-one believes these things because of experience – all the evidence we’ve accumulated over the years.

So why do we seriously even consider that these things might be true?

It’s a combination of FOMO (fear of missing out) and the attraction of big numbers which are neither properly explained nor fully understood by so many of those doing the buying.

It’s an updated version of what used to be known as ‘Chairman’s Wife Syndrome’. As in: ‘The Chairman’s wife reads the Daily Mail religiously, we need to advertise there. I don’t give a fig for targeting, numbers, cost, effect – just do what I ask’.

Now we have ‘CFO Syndrome’. As in: ‘Don’t give me all that fluffy research theory, just look at the humungous numbers those nice people at the platforms have given me and place the order’.

Take an initiative like ISBA’s Origin, of which I’m known to be a fan.

Forget the politics for a moment and consider what the industry needs.

In an increasingly complicated world, a missing piece is for a cross-media (cross-media, not cross-video, or cross-platform) measurement framework to help in decision making.

Audience measurement has always been paid for by the seller.

No seller can be expected to fund a measurement system over which he does not exercise control.

The major beneficiary from a cross-media system is the advertiser.

Thus, the advertiser should fund any cross-media system.

Put all of these factors together and what you have is Origin.

So why is it so controversial, such an issue for existential debate and discussion? Is it because of concerns over how best to undertake the project? I don’t think it is.

The reason is politics, and an ideology that hates anything that cannot be controlled and is thus perceived to be a risk.

Whether it’s right or wrong long-term, the feeling exists that we can’t support any innovation in case the short-term results might not suit us.

This is narrow thinking undertaken by those who have the answer before the question has been asked.

The last Cog Blog was about lessons from the Post Office scandal. One is the danger of believing what you want to be true, regardless of expert advice: ‘The computer system in which we invested millions is robust; now what’s the question?’

The best experts stand up to generalists; the best generalists know they need and can benefit from experts.

If the people who largely fund the paid-for ad industry decide that however hard it might be to deliver, what’s needed is a system to help them  and their advisors to decide between different channels, including in due course non-advertising channels, then it’s the expert’s job to make sure that such a thing is delivered brilliantly.

It’s the difference between ‘we shouldn’t do this because we’re concerned with the immediate commercial implications’ and ‘we need to do this, it’s the right, long-term thing to do; the only question is how to do it as well as possible’.

We should support research that helps us do a better job building brands.

Whatever the politics.

  1. Always a great read Brian.
    There are three principles those against Origin should consider.
    1. Outcome measurement is more important than currency because media planning is more important than media buying.
    2. Audience measurement without a role in the bid stream is pointless.
    3. Media vendors who can offer cross media bundles; will, JICs be damned.

  2. Thanks Chris, and yes! For so many years vendors have focussed on buying over planning. Consequently many find it hard to appreciate that we increasingly live in an age of the planner..

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