I was on an OMMA panel recently debating the relative merits of using an online GRP (gross rating point) for digital video. I think they let me on these things because they know I’ll usually end up articulating the minority dissent, (For the record, I’m not a fan of the digital GRP notion).
If I’m reading the press correctly — Nielsen and TubeMogul have introduced a GRP model that normalizes TV and online video GRPs such that they could theoretically be treated as additive, enabling “apples-to-apples comparisons with television.”
Not so fast. To do this, one would have to establish that Audience A (TV/broadcast) and Audience B (online/digital) are the same. The simplest thing to do would be to combine the available online audience with the available TV audience within a fixed period of time and calculate reach and frequency off that.
I’m assuming that Nielsen wouldn’t tamper with the definition of the broadcast GRP, so that means in order to do this normalization, online-only audiences would have to be discarded. This means that the combined video GRP is most likely a measure of people who are exposed only to TV or to both TV and online video in a fixed timeframe. This implies two things:
• That some portion (possibly a very large one) of the digital audience is not represented in this delivery metric.
• That the measured digital audience is only adding frequency to the calculation, not reach.
Smells like disenfranchisement.
Suddenly, I’m really concerned that I’m in the minority opinion on this issue, because this is starting to smell like a conspiracy to disenfranchise digital media agencies.
For years, digital video providers have been pushing to standardize online video metrics against the broadcast standard to appeal to broadcast planners and buyers. The rationale is that the more digital video looks and smells like regular broadcast, the more likely it is that digital video will capture a portion of the billions of broadcast dollars in play.
If things play out this way, then pure digital media budgets are likely to shrink as the funds earmarked for video in a given digital plan are siphoned back into the broadcast budgets. The digital shops will lose the responsibility for planning with properties like Hulu, YuMe, perhaps even YouTube. This also sets the stage for Pandora, Spotify and other digital audio channels to fall back into the broadcast planning fold as well.
It’s time for someone to call BS on this.
Priority one: Tear down the GRP myth.
Since no one has really stepped up, I’ll go first: I say that priority one is to tear down the myth of the GRP.
GRPs are not units of efficacy; that is to say, they are not unto themselves advertising success metrics. The goal of an advertising campaign is usually to change a behavior or perception: to get an audience to buy or think or feel. A GRP doesn’t ladder directly to any of those things and isn’t even a reasonable proxy for them.
A GRP is a unit of weight, an average percentage of available eyeballs that a property within a given channel has or can deliver. It’s the same thing as saying “ounce”. Only in media terms, it’s “ounces of eyeballs.”
Here’s the problem: Are 10 ounces of eyeballs seeing your commercial on 50” flat screens in the comfort of their living rooms the same as 10 ounces of eyeballs seeing it on their mobile phones on a crowded train? The answer is that there isn’t enough information to say one way or the other and the only conclusion is that it’s 20 ounces of eyeballs. If I’m an advertiser, my reaction is, “Well, that doesn’t tell me anything.” Exactly. We need to be talking about outcomes and objectives. Anything else is an endorsement of a lazy and indolent status quo, where volume remains a woefully under-disguised stand-in for efficacy.
Look, I don’t know why I have Groupon in my crosshairs (see my T3 blog post from a while back). I kept my mouth shut when they had a pretty successful IPO, despite red flags in the period leading up to it. Then I read that Groupon shares were free falling. Then they rebounded a bit. Then recently, I read that CBS Marketwatch had dubbed them the “pets.com” of the current boom. PaidContent also weighed in with an article about Groupon’s first shareholder suit over accounting shenanigans.
Enough is enough. I’m not going to stand around while Groupon sullies the very notion of what advertising is.
Here’s what the headline will read come July: “Groupon victimized by own model as people scramble to gobble up the company’s shares at half their IPO value”. But you better redeem those shares fast, because they will continue to shrink in value.
It reminds me of a trip to the Soviet Union I took in the early 90s. Coming back, I struck up a conversation with this guy who was smuggling two half-inch tall stacks of rubles out in his socks. Back then, you had to by law convert your rubles back into your native currency. It was easily more than a thousand dollars in Soviet script.
The conversation went something like this:
“Why didn’t you exchange those out?!”
“It’s an investment,” he said smugly.
“In what?” I nearly screamed. “I’ve only been here for about a month and that currency has lost probably 20% of its value!”
“These will be valuable someday,” he said.
Sure, if you found a couple hundred picture frames for free you could sell these worthless notes for five bucks apiece as relics of the Soviet Union.
But wait, if you could get free picture frames, you could just sell the frames without taking the hit on defunct currency that happens to smell like a pauper’s dirty feet.
Or you could sit on your stock of framed currency for two decades and then issue coupons that allow customers to buy these relics at half of their original price of $5. Two hundred units at $2.50, which is $500 free and clear. Oh, minus Groupon’s cut, so make that $250. Oh, and minus your initial investment in the rubles, so…uh oh.
That’s right, you just took a 75% hit. Great model, Groupon.
It’s not here yet, but some marketers believe that the notion of marketing integration is about to be replaced by Transmedia Planning, which prioritizes individualized vehicle/channel-based solutions over umbrella strategies designed to play across channels.
A colleague sent me this presentation the other day about the notion of transmedia.
The short implication of transmedia planning is that in some instances, overarching strategic constructs may be too rigid to fully exploit new channels of communication and the behaviors and beliefs each channel may represent. It effectively advocates an approach that starts with multiple tactical implementations that, when viewed from a step or two back, should mosaic nicely into a representation of the larger idea: A collection of appropriate parts that will sum into a cohesive and effective whole.
This idea triggered an odd flashback.
Fishing for an upper hand
For years before I worked in advertising, I bounced around as a sort of trout bum. I worked for a fly shop, a rod company, tied custom flies, taught people how to cast and served as a fishing guide. Every now and then you’d come across a client who’d show up at the river with million-dollar equipment but without the slightest inkling of how to use any of it. Back in the day, expensive fly rods were largely an expression of technical prowess; fine-tuned instruments that demanded the user have both a specific use in mind and a honed skillset.
When the movie A River Runs Through It came out, a lot of wealthy men and women who had never fished before reasoned that leapfrogging starter rods in favor of top-of-the-line outfits would represent an advantage. Retailers were happy to oblige, but in most instances this practice actually added time to the learning curve.
Too advanced for our own good?
To get back on course, while the idea of transmedia planning is both intriguing and, I think, sound, it strikes me as an advanced tool that will likely be misused more often than used correctly. I don’t know what it is, but I think we as marketers and advertisers are most comfortable with tactics, and I don’t intend this to be a pejorative use of the word. It’s just that to be a tactician feels like a natural state; tactics are more fun, easier to envision, and our profession tends to celebrate and perpetuate the notions of serendipity and genius versus strategy and hard work.
Here’s a dirty little secret: You actually don’t have to be a very good caster to catch trout on flies. In fact, in many instances you don’t have to know how to cast at all. Fly fishing is one of the purest intersections of art and science that I know of (outside of advertising, of course); it’s the art of casting and fly tying joined with an understanding of what fish eat and where they prefer to live.
Know how you got there
There are people out there who only like the part of fishing where they’re reeling the fish in; what got them to that state is almost immaterial. Who can blame them? I think the actual catching is the best part, too. But I do care how you got there, and I’m concerned that this idea of transmedia planning puts a lustrous and credible veneer on our preferred natural state and issues license to those who would rather catch fish before learning how to cast.