OPINION: Measurement and attribution - online's black holes

Nikki Retallick
By Nikki Retallick | 8 June 2012
Nikki Retallick.

The online advertising industry continues to evolve with increasing speed and it seems for every new solution that technology delivers, another challenge surfaces. Measurement has probably been the biggest ongoing issue the channel faces. The proliferation of the ad exchange and the resulting increase in liquidity has enabled agencies to centralise retargeting via their trading desks. This has only added to the issue. While retargeting can help deliver efficiency, even with the scale ad exchanges offer, the retargeting population is finite, meaning the capability this type of activity delivers also has its limits.

In terms of the consumer, both ad frequency and quality seem to be suffering as a direct result of the increased use of exchanges and programmatic buying. With users being retargeted and subjected to the same ads repeatedly, the end result is more likely to be increased cookie deletion and activation of private browsing in a concerted effort to avoid this ‘spam’, than an increase in uptake of the product or service that’s been so aggressively pushed at them. Remember frequency capping, anyone?

Microsoft has made the ballsy move to ship IE 10 with a no tracking feature, meaning users will have to actively opt-in to being tracked, rather than opting out. This is likely to be welcomed by some consumers who are fed up with being followed around and whacked over the head repeatedly with something of little interest. Furthermore, with so many stakeholders now having the ability to deliver retargeting, the whole thing just becomes even more about chasing the last click and staking claim to a transaction which was likely driven by a number of channels. TV, search, social and display all have their part to play in telling a story and moving a human being to take action.

And so to one of the greatest unsolved problems in digital: attribution. My favourite analogy was touted a couple of years back yet still holds true: attribution is like teenage sex, everyone’s talking about doing it but no-one’s actually doing it well. Proper attribution and the challenges which come with it will continue to be a talking point in the online world until we find a universally accepted model to replace the last click schtick that everyone agrees is wholly flawed.

In terms of the best methodology for online ad attribution, agencies and marketers are split, with some giving greater credit to the first impression, some giving each view equal weighting and some even discounting certain ad events entirely. Far too commonly however it’s all about the last click, particularly here in Australia. From the wealth of ad campaigns we’ve ran at Tribal Fusion and from the analytics work I’ve been involved with agency side, one thing is pretty clear – clicks do not equal conversions. Clearly sometimes they do but usually only when the user is already towards the end of the consideration cycle and ready to purchase – what about measuring and giving credit to all the preceding online activity that got them to this point?

Advertisers need to do their due diligence and start to look more at pre-campaign planning and insight rather than analysing the data post-event. In fact, every available piece of data and technology (cost allowing) should be utilised to ensure the ad is targeted optimally in the first place and just as importantly, that it carries the right creative message. Also key to measurement is to define what success looks like upfront. All too often, campaigns are run with no clear objectives or definition of metrics and so we find ourselves defaulting to the rather pointless CTR as a benchmark. Surely after fifteen years running these types of ads, we can do better than this?

Whilst performance advertising should be primarily about hard ROI such as cost per conversion and effective CPM, brand campaigns should always favour metrics such as reach, frequency and engagement, as well as measuring perception and intent whenever possible through surveys. There are even partner vendors who enable advertisers to do this on the fly and use this intelligence to optimize brand campaigns whilst they’re live.

Whilst digital will continue to evolve and the technology associated with it grow ever more complex, utilizing these more traditional advertising and marketing principals should help simplify things. Using common language and measurement parameters both pre and post campaign will help break down the walls between digital and all other media so that we’re more readily able to compare impact and performance cross channel in an intelligible way. The reality is until we get to this point, brands will continue to lack confidence in their decisions around budget splits and clarity on what to expect in return for their digital investment.

Nikki Retallick
NSW & Queensland Sales Director 
Tribal Fusion

comments powered by Disqus