ComScore recently published a manifesto that would have you believe popular digital advertising metrics such as click-through rates, or clicks themselves, don’t matter anymore. Before we evaluate whether comScore is sane or crazy, let’s first note it’s not alone in rethinking its media metrics.
Every major media category likes to finesse its measurements to try to make itself look better — have you ever considered how crazy “GRPs” are? — and as advertising has become revolutionized by new devices and changing habits, ad math has gotten fuzzier. Magazines, facing slumping circulations, recently came up with a new metric called “readership,” a faux-count that supposes that every printed copy of a magazine is read by 7 or 9 people. (If your magazine has 1 million printed copies, your “readership” could be 9 million! Advertisers, please pay more!) Radio, when it encountered new Arbitron Portable People Meters that replaced old journal entries of “what station did you listen to” with actual measurement picked up by inaudible signals on electric gadgets, found that GRPs among major metro stations were lower than supposed … so Arbitron launched a baloney campaign telling planners that “70 GRPs are the new 100.” Television, confronted with DVRs that helped consumers skip commercials, has been finessed by Nielsen with the “Live +3” and “Live +7” metrics arguing that TV shows and their commercials now reach more audiences thanks to DVR watching later.
Yep. You get the idea. If media usage changes, the first defense for your section of the industry is to redraw your yardstick so advertisers continue to pay for audiences that may, or may not, exist.
It’s hard to fault comScore for trying the same, but let’s see how it does.
ComScore: It’s about eyeballs, not fingers
What comScore now proposes is clicks on ads are worthless and impressions — ranked on a Gross Rating Point level similar to television — are really the sole value of digital advertising. In some ways, comScore has a point. Other media such as television and radio historically have been judged based on impressions, not response rates, while digital always has been about response. And if you actually calculate the response rates from a TV, radio or billboard ad, they are about as low as that of digital. (For example, each U.S. TV viewer is theoretically exposed to 6,600 ads a month, and if he or she takes action on three of those spots each month, that works out to a 0.05% response rate — lower than banners’ 0.08% click-through rate.)
But comScore pushes further, suggesting that while digital click-through rates are easy to measure, CTR “does not accurately reflect true campaign effectiveness and in most cases should not be used.” It goes on to say “comScore research has shown that the click on a display ad bears no relationship to the effectiveness of that ad” … and promotes more general, fuzzier metrics such as ad recall, awareness and purchase intent. You know, you saw the ad and kind of remember the product. Sort of like … TV.
Why is comScore doing this? Big dollars are at stake. ComScore has evolved into the world’s leading measurement organization for digital, starting from consumer panels measuring e-commerce in 1999 to a blended system today that includes direct measurement of “tags” placed on publisher sites to see exactly who hits what digital content.
The definition of digital is changing rapidly, and if comScore plays its cards right, it could become the dominant measurement company for all advertising reporting. Consumers now watch TV shows on Hulu and YouTube; online viewers are moving to mobile and tablets; 14% of all web traffic in Q4 2012 was not from PCs (coming instead from smartphones and tablets), and that number has spiked from only 6% a year earlier.
All screens are converging. The world of advertising metrics is up for grabs. If comScore can convince marketers that impressions are really what counts, its upcoming unified GRP metric may be the best bet for watching consumers watch your ads.
If you believe in impressions, that is.