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July 18, 2022

Evolving Media Currency to Impressions— or Should We?

By Debra Bahen, Senior Buyer/Acct Manager

Media planners and buyers are faced with a whole new challenge today to add to the unprecedented fragmentation of “TV” viewing. We are used to challenges as they are par for the course in media, and we are all adept at integrating new channels and tactics as consumers continue to expand entertainment platforms.

But not since the days of Arbitron and Nielsen splitting TV markets with vastly different ratings methodologies have we seen such a conundrum in how to equitably assess the value of a media buy. Make no mistake – it is not that people aren’t consuming media. It is about how we value the exposures. What is the currency that will allow us to provide clients with the most accurate accounting of what is happening with their ad dollars as well as being fair to the media reps when it comes to the expected delivery of what we are purchasing? What are we using to show that delivery? Nielsen is struggling to provide any viable consistency in the universes we depend on to assess reach.

With the myriad of options today, most media plans are multi-channel. They require a layer of mass media for awareness which undergirds a variety of digital and social tactics offering deeper targetability and trackability. But when planning, buying, and reporting these plans, does it make sense to express delivery of some channels as GRPs/reach and frequency, and others as audience impressions? To deliver a more uniform report we CAN express traditional radio and TV buys as impressions (000s) only, but should we?

How do we best plan, and then articulate, comprehensively, the delivery of a media campaign?

TV buying used to mean broadcast/cable, and over the decades, the industry, and the majority of clients, have learned to understand and agree on the impact of reach by the gross rating point metric. We can determine budget levels, and flight lengths based on the currency of reach and the associated frequency.

OTT buys can either complement linear TV or often provide otherwise unexposed eyeballs to the brand but in either case we are aiming for the “living room viewing” experience – the non-skippable, awareness building experience. However, the universe for OTT is based on impressions so GRPs is not an option so in this upper funnel channel, we are mixing the measurements.

When factoring in the different measurement metrics between linear TV and OTT, radio, print, out of home, digital and streaming audio, plus layering in the variance in Nielsen and ComScore ratings currency, it’s no wonder we find ourselves relying more and more on the one and only common metric of impressions.

Imagine a media plan for a local or regional financial client. The audience is broad; everyone who has come of age to open a checking account. The media mix includes linear TV, OTT, and OLV, streaming audio, Display and Social. What is the best way to express the totality of audience impact across broadcast and multiple digital delivery platforms? Well, it’s probably impressions, eyeballs reached. We are all so accustomed to understanding what 1 rating point is and what the value of an 80 reach with 4+ frequency means to consumer awareness. Ratings and Reach and Frequency are tied to populations of finite physical geographic areas we are trying to achieve a level of impact to. Knowing a geo’s finite universe provides the gauge by which the frequency of the message to the audience can be planned. The expression of impact by impressions just doesn’t have the meaning behind it yet that gives us the ability to be comparative across channels and tactics.

I’m not suggesting we abandon GRPs as they really do help us understand market and audience impact. We are calculating ratings and impressions, side by side, source by source, until we can come to terms with some new baselines (e.g., the massive difference in reach between NSI and Comscore!) Spurrier Group is investing in information and subscribing to multiple resources and methodologies and monitoring them all concurrently. The safety in this approach is that KPIs still drive optimization so campaign performance is still the goal.

The really messy part of this multi-source approach is the reporting! Sorry to our analysts that are tasked with delivering succinct and insightful campaign reporting when we are using everything but the kitchen sink for tools and have data written in different languages, but as we continue to look at the nuances of each resource and consider the value that one does or does not provide, the objective is that we get to some standards that make sense across the board.

As if ad attribution wasn’t already about as clunky and muddy as it could be – add the loss of audience in linear TV, the shifts in viewing to ad supported streaming and lots of non-ad supported streaming, CTV and OTT and of course YouTube TV – add the vast divide between NSI and Comscore methodologies for reporting audiences and we have a landscape that is emerging as we go. We WILL figure this out! But as we do, we should share what we learn to make us all smarter and good stewards of our clients’ ad dollars.