The digital world’s reputation is as the most measurable medium in the world. The reality is measurement is a bit of a mess. The industry’s leading trade groups want to change that, with far-reaching consequences for publishers and brands.

The Making Measurement Make Sense initiative, a partnership of the Association of National Advertisers, Interactive Advertising Bureau and The American Association of Advertising Agencies, has been at work for 18 months on standardizing digital measurement.

“The opportunities for marketers is greater credibility and confidence in digital metrics,” said Fanelli “It will also enhance cost effectiveness of media spend and help support and facilitate comparison across platforms, which helps to optimize allocations. Lastly, it encourages and allows the use of better creative and inventory for branding.”

The costs of things like billing discrepancies and other hangups cost up to $100 million per year, according to the ANA.

The 3MS group is nearing consensus on a critical first step: shifting from measuring a served impression to a viewable impression. According to ComScore estimates, 31 percent of banner ads are never seen. Moving to measurable impressions will mean brands can be sure their ads are seen while publishers will be under pressure to lop off bottom of the page units that clutter sites and are rarely seen by actual humans. Industry-wide implementation of viewable impressions is expected in first quarter of 2013.

The question for publishers is whether this move will be used as another way advertisers hold them over a barrel, or if publishers with viewable impressions will get paid more.

The 3MS program is also examining the currency for buying and selling ads is flawed. Brands are increasingly interested in buying audience, so that should be the currency used in transactions, said Duke Fanelli, svp of marketing and communications at the ANA, on a 3MS Webinar. Brands need to be able to understand both the quality and also the exposure against their target audience. The current digital currency being used makes this really hard to do. And it makes cross-media comparisons really hard as well.

The 3MS is also taking aim at figuring out a standard classification system for online ads, which unlike TV spots come in many shapes, sizes and placements, and another for interactivity metrics beyond the click. Finally, the 3MS is tackling the thorny issue of making digital measurement comparable to other media, which will help brands get a comprehensive view of their ad efforts.

The effort is an ambitious undertaking for the industry, which for all its success has not seen the flood of brand dollars that many anticipated would quickly follow consumer shifts. Getting the nuts and bolts in order is an important step toward fixing that.

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