Words Still Matter

Last week’s post went on a rant about the industry’s obsession with big numbers and our apparent lack of concern over misusing terms. It moved on to discussing how our US friends have got to the point where they are considering multiple currencies to measure video audiences. 

I fear this will be a disaster for all but the technocrats who finally get a platform to discuss their theories around angels and pins. For the rest of us (especially those of us who remember the painful debates in the US around readership measurement methodologies that led to different vendors using different techniques to measure allegedly the same thing) it will add little to improving the craft of advertising. 

Is it any wonder that advertisers look on the media measurement industry with a mix of disdain and incredulity; and stay well clear. Better for them to shake their heads in amazement and go off and establish their own measurement framework (as the WFA, ANA and ISBA are doing) – based on telling them what they need to know not what vendors choose to tell them. 

There are examples of measurement businesses claiming to have the answer to the tricky questions advertisers would indeed like answering. 

Take the thorny matter of ‘attribution’. 

My LinkedIn feed has for some time contained an ad for a business that claims to have sorted out ‘attribution’. It features a guy explaining how things really work to an incredulous interviewer. 

I admit I haven’t watched it beyond reading the blurb beneath the video and I’m certainly not going to promote the business concerned by mentioning them here, but it does rather remind me of the online media guru at Havas a few years ago sitting me down and starting our meeting with the words ‘let me explain to you how advertising works’.   

If you want to understand attribution you need to explain how to measure the impact that offline media forms, like TV, audio, OOH, cinema have on online activities. And vice-versa. 

You need to explain ad fraud numbers, and bots and how you’re accounting for them. 

What is misleading is to limit your explanation to optimising likes, retweets and the rest as if these things exist in a sealed vacuum uncontaminated by anything in the outside world. 

This isn’t ‘attribution’, this is a con. 

Same with ‘cross-media’. When most people speak of cross-media in the trade press or from conference platforms what many mean is cross-video, or cross-platform. 

How to improve a metric by optimising video spend across video channels. 

This may be very desirable, but it isn’t cross-media. 

To my mind any definition of cross-media starts with an appreciation that it is possible to communicate a commercial message by means outside of advertising. Point-of-sale, websites, retail, PR, experiential, sponsorships, influencers and so on, all might very well have a role to play. 

If I was a marketing director, I would want a way of assessing these channels individually and in combination. 

Then if I settle on advertising as a channel, I want to understand how video works with audio, with OOH, with social and so on. 

Then, certainly within video it’s great to have access to systems like CFlight. 

It’s like a ladder going up into the clouds. We’re on a low rung, and whilst we’re not going to get any higher without the low rungs the climb towards what we really need to know is long and arduous. 

To suggest that the low rung is anything other than a perfectly helpful step along the way is misleading. 

Why does any of this matter? It matters because we should not be conning our customers – we tried that for years when it came to explaining how agencies got paid. That didn’t end well (not that it’s ended yet). 

We should be honest with our measurements, explain what we can and can’t do, what the limitations are and how we seek to overcome them. 

We should stop hiding behind words like ‘attribution’ and ‘cross-media’ as if they were some sort of holy grail, hiding in plain sight just waiting to be discovered.  

They’re not, it’s complicated and to pretend otherwise diminishes us all. 

  1. “…but it does rather remind me of the online media guru at Havas a few years ago sitting me down and starting our meeting with the words ‘let me explain to you how advertising works’. ”

    Now THAT would be the ultimate blog post of all marketing blogs. I totally understand why you are keeping that answer to yourself, after hearing it from Havas. But it is good to know someone has the answer. There is hope!

  2. He left the business soon after – his answer was so good he’s now counting his money (NOT…!)

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