The GRP is Winning


This is the second article in a 12-part series, “Solving the Web’s Brand Challenge.” The series is made possible through the sponsorship of Vizu, an online ad technology company whose solutions allow advertisers and publishers to measure and optimize brand lift in real time.
Talk to many a digital ad industry veteran, and they’ll visibly cringe when you bring up the idea of using traditional media metrics. The GRP? Please. Why on earth would we want to borrow anything from an industry that still compiles ratings using paper diaries? Of course, many of these folks are the same people who assume that anyone working in the traditional media space must use a telegraph to communicate.
Reality check: The GRP is gaining traction, not slouching toward extinction. It appears that across the industry, many digital buyers and sellers are getting religion when it comes to the GRP, that old-school TV currency of gross ratings points. That’s because while the digital-advertising pie continues to grow, brand dollars lag behind, for a host of reasons, not least of which is the difficulty marketers have of comparing their media. Meanwhile, the TV business continues to thrive, despite ratings shortfalls, viewership fragmentation and a lack of trackablitiy and interaction.
The market has spoken with its dollars. And now leaders from across the industry, including the Interactive Advertising Bureau, the American Association of Advertising Agencies, are the budget-controlling Association of National Advertisers, are pushing hard to adopt a simple, universal set of metrics via the Making Measurement Make Sense Initiative. That group should release findings and/or guidelines sometime in the next few months. Word coming from insiders is that the GRP and traditional-style metrics are currying favor.
That sort of momentum is causing even pure digital ad veterans to rethink their positions. John Montgomery, COO of GroupM Interaction, said that he first changed his thinking a few years ago when the IAB released the results of a study that examined why advertisers weren’t investing as much as they could on the Web. One of the top reasons cited was the lack of translatable metrics, which resulted in a lack of benchmarks for the medium.
“Marketers are basically saying, ‘Hey, guys, you are not listening to us!’” said Montgomery. “They want to be able to compare what happens if they spend a million dollars here versus a million dollars there. This was essentially a cry for help.” Yeah, but aren’t these old-school marketers who don’t get digital and have been buying TV for years? Don’t they need to be educated on just how scientific online advertising can be?
“These are very sophisticated marketers,” replied Montgomery. “They are professionals that control billions and billions of dollars and are not in digital. And they are asking for [metrics like the GRP]. A simple measure that allows easy comparison is a good thing. It doesn’t mean we have to get less sophisticated. There is a lot of power behind the GRP right now.”
But do we have to settle on something that’s less than perfect at this stage of the medium’s lifespan? Not everyone agrees, or believes that’s even possible.
Scott Schiller, evp of digital media sales at NBC Universal/Comcast has logged time selling TV for MTV Networks and display ads for Glam. He’s in the camp that thinks it’s a fool’s errand to believe a single solution is likely to emerge.
“GRPs are the most prevalent and accepted metric overall,” Schiller said. “But the answer lies somewhere between what we have used forever as a media measure along with what we will use in the future. Remember, the GRP was a mass measure when the world was mass. Today the world is a collection of micro-audiences and behaviors. I don’t think we’ll ever have one metric again because we don’t have one audience.”
One reason Schiller cited was the constant change in the digital space. “Two years ago the iPad didn’t even exist,” he said. “Now look at it. How do you measure it? Is it print, interactive, its own medium?”
OK, so if not the GRP, then what about some sort of standard engagement metric? Engagement seems to have overtaken awareness and reach in today’s media ecosystem.
Good luck, said Montgomery. “The problem with engagement is that what is engagement for one brand is not worthwhile for another.”
There’s a big caveat to this discussion, and that is the fact that online advertising is currently, at its core, a direct-response medium. And that part of the business is unlikely to change its practices, since it’s not motivated to do so. For example, search represents roughly 45 percent of the current online ad pool. It has little use for the GRP. The category behemoth, Google, primarily sells advertisers on response, not reach or exposure.
Plus, audience-based buying and ad exchanges continue to gain traction. In that world, reach and frequency are often beside the point. So what’s likely to happen in the long term is a split in the market — with direct-response dollars being tracked one way and brand dollars being tracked another.
Will that way be the GRP? It might not ultimately matter. As Adam Gerber, vp of sales development and marketing at ABC Television put it at a recent Digiday event, even if publishers aren’t selling or even aren’t calculating GRPs for a given campaign, “Agencies are doing it anyway.”
As part of Vizu’s sponsorship of this series, Digiday shot videos with industry leaders to discuss the main challenges that have faced the Web when it comes to branding. In this video, Mindy Guillama-Rodriguez, a digital strategy supervisor at Horizon Media, discusses the role of click-through rates online, whether the Web needs a commercial break, and the frustrations consumer goods manufacturers have with online advertising.

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