It’s sometimes easy to forget that how new, relatively speaking, the Internet is as an advertising medium. But the still-unsettled state of online audience measurement provides us with a strong reminder. This is well reflected in the 9-month old Making Measurement Make Sense initiative, a collaborative effort of key industry groups such as the Interactive Advertising Bureau, the Association of National Advertisers, and the American Association of Advertising Agencies.
The goal of this initiative is to bring some standardization to a measurement arena that continues, even in 2011, to be characterized as “the Wild West.” As one ad exec quoted in this story about the 3MS initiative’s recent activities points out, ““Look at four different measurement services and you’ll get four radically different pieces of information.”
This kind of inconsistency across measurement systems breeds two things that are anathema to participants in the audience marketplace: complexity and uncertainty. This quote from a Universal McCann executive is particularly telling: “To spend $100,000 in online advertising is far more complicated than $10 million in television.” This statement is a reminder that the shift in advertising dollars from traditional media to online platforms (which is progressing steadily) could be happening much more quickly if the systems of measuring online audiences were further along in their evolution.
The 3MS group has, to this point, announced five guding principles for digital measurement. These are: 1) to move toward a standard of viewable impressions rather than served impressions; 2) to move toward a currency based on audience impressions rather than gross ad impressions; 3) the creation of a transparent classification system; 4) identifying and defining metrics most valuable to brand marketers and defining and implementing reliable standards for the existing metrics; and 5) making digital measurement increasingly comparable and integrated with other media.
As this list makes clear, online audience measurement still has a long way to go before it’s satisfying the needs of advertisers. And, it’s worth noting that the pressure is on online audience metrics to look more like those used in traditional media. This is a potent reminder of the extent to which the existing structures and practices in any media system exert a powerful influence over the evolutionary path followed by new entrants into these systems.