P&G, Unilever join forces with platforms to lead latest cross-media measurement push

After several false starts, advertisers appear to have made a breakthrough in their quixotic pursuit of cross-media measurement.

Unilever and Procter & Gamble are among a group of advertisers leading the latest attempt to see the impact ad spend in one environment, like TV, has across other channels like YouTube. But unlike previous attempts to reach a consensus on cross-media measurement, Google, Facebook, Twitter are involved as are all the major agency holding groups, the Media Ratings Council and broadcasters NBCUniversal and RTL.

The collective for cross-media measurement was formed by the World Federation of Advertisers last October but an outline for how it will work will be revealed in the coming weeks.

Next month, the WFA will announce a set of global principles around transparency, accountability and data provenance that will be used by advertisers, media owners, agencies and measurement companies to build cross-media measurement solutions in local markets like the U.S. where the trade body the Association of National Advertisers will lead the development. When those solutions launch, they will be used for planning and reporting purposes, rather than as a trading currency.

One of the first versions of the solution will be in the U.K., where the advertiser trade association ISBA led the development of “Origin,” which will show the unduplicated reach and frequency ads get across online video, display and TV. Advertisers won’t, however, be able to link their reach and frequency to sales outcomes within Origin as doing so could flout privacy regulations. Instead, they will be able to link their unduplicated reach and frequency to the sales data within their own systems. Eventually, Origin will cover other online and media channels.

It’s unclear when Origin will launch.

“Brands haven’t been enormously vocal on the issue but that’s changing,” said Matt Green, director of global Media at WFA. “We’re trying to drive central consensus to expedite the implementation of more consistent and advanced cross-media measurement.”

For years, the idea of being able to piece together a customer journey from offline to online channels has seemed more like a fool’s errand. When Nielsen and Facebook with Atlas tried to help advertisers minimize duplicated reach, for example, there were catches. Nielsen struggled to track in-app inventory while Atlas could not measure the Google-owned platforms being a Facebook product.

The industry’s latest attempt at cross-media measurement, however, has a few things going for it. Firstly, there’s a group of some of the largest advertisers now involved. Secondly, both Google and Facebook have said they will support the move. Third, there more examples of this being done well like in Germany where TV audience ratings including online video consumption on YouTube.

There are still a few key factors that must be resolved before the system can launch, said an exec with knowledge of the plan. The most pressing concern being how measurement data will be taken from the online platforms, said the exec.

The platforms and media owners want to share aggregated data, not user-level data, said another media executive with knowledge of the cross-media measurement plan.

In other words, marketers looking to run in-campaign frequency management will likely be disappointed as to do so they need user-level data. But for more pragmatic marketers, the stance from the platforms might not be so bad.

In place of user-level data, the platforms have proposed to share cohort-level analytics on audiences with specific attributes who have engaged with a campaign, said the media exec. The aggregated user information, alongside research data from companies like Nielsen that track TV and other offline media, would then be poured into a cloud-based clean room, said the exec.

The approach is similar to Google’s own alternative to third-party cookies that would study browsing behavior of cohorts rather than individuals. Where the two approaches differ, however, is the WFA’s one would be run by an independent body or joint industry committee.

The concept of an independent clean room with no controlling influence from either the buy or sell-sides sounds like the right idea. The problem is finding the right way to make it work.

Not only does the clean room need to give a fair representation of all the media involved, but it also has to run an aggregate analysis of all the data inside, so that advertisers can understand the reach, frequency and attribution of their ads. Otherwise, the clean room would just be a central repository for reporting on separate channels — no different to what companies like Datorama do today.

“Since there’s no common unique identifier shared across publishers to identify an individual, any solution would need enough information to match up account profiles and cookie data, Paul Kasamias, managing partner at Publicis Media agency Starcom. Without those details, the confidence in any insights is always going to be limited, said Kasamias.

Nevertheless, both Google and Facebook have told advertisers they’re willing to help smooth over any bumps on the road toward cross-media measurement.

In an emailed statement, Brad Smallwood, vp of measurement and insights at Facebook said: “We applaud the WFA for bringing the industry together to design a global, privacy-safe, cross-media measurement solution. We are committed to working with the WFA to achieve a proposal that would allow for continuous measurement of reach, frequency management and sales outcomes across all media formats. Providing advertisers with a more comprehensive understanding of their media investments, ultimately resulting in a better experience for consumers.”

That said, it’s in the interest of the platforms to be involved in how cross-media measurement is done. After all, any cross-media measurement framework would allow online video inventory to be compared against TV, and could subsequently make it easier for money to be moved from one media owner to the other.

Senior marketers like Unilever’s svp of global media Luis Di Como have demanded that online platforms like Google and Facebook do better to help advertisers measure reach, not just spend. Online platforms are great at helping advertisers measure the performance of campaigns within their own ecosystems, but tend to ignore what people do outside of their respective platforms. It’s a reality advertisers increasingly struggle with in order to reconcile with their own plans to buy more online media.

Despite those struggles, the imminent removal of cookies from the measurement equation has left advertisers with no option but to pursue better ways to see how many times a single person saw the marketer’s ads across multiple platforms.

“We’re hearing from brand marketers that they are increasingly being asked — often by their chief marketing officer — to understand the contribution and online-to-offline impact of linear TV to their digital channel efforts,” said Brian Leder, president of media consultancy Ramp97.

 

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