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Shifting Ad Accountability to Media

Oct 6, 2003  •  Post A Comment

For the first time in a quarter of a century, the ad industry is planning to alter its basic model for measuring the effectiveness of advertising, including media buys.
The changes ahead are likely to place an even greater responsibility on media outlets to prove advertising results. Instead of simply making media accountable for ensuring that consumers are exposed to an advertising message, the new model will make media responsible for making sure consumers are attentive, persuaded and even in some way responsive to the ad messages media carry.
In other words, instead of just being held to a standard of Nielsen ratings, TV outlets may soon find they need to demonstrate how well they contributed to an advertiser’s sales.
Underwriting the Research
It’s a fundamental shift that will require the development of new forms of media research that can adequately measure the effects of media on consumer attention, thinking and behavior, but Madison Avenue is making that level of sophisticated research the new gold standard for planning, buying and evaluating the performance of media.
However, a team of industry experts who gathered Sept. 25 at an Advertising Research Foundation workshop in New York to discuss and debate the new model cited a potential problem: just who will underwrite the new research? The cost of such research historically has been underwritten by the media, not advertisers and agencies. The panel agreed that media outlets likely would be reluctant to accept a greater onus and develop measurement systems that would make them even more accountable.
They also agreed this would be especially true for television-particularly national TV outlets-which many involved in the development of the new model believe has benefited from an unfair and unjustifiable bias inherent in the old model.
“The old model tended to be TV-centric,” said Erwin Ephron, head of the Ephron Consultancy and one of the chief architects of the new model. He said television has shaped the entire thinking of modern-day media planning and buying and that other media have had to be retrofitted into a television context, including how they are measured (audience exposure ratings) and how they are planned (reach and frequencies).
TV-Centric Copy-Testing
But by shifting to new levels of proof-of-performance, including attention, persuasion and even sales, Mr. Ephron said the importance of national TV outlets and their share of national advertising budgets could wane over time.
That will likely take considerable time, however, because of the need to develop those research systems and the fact that some of those also have been co-opted by a television mindset.
“Take copy-testing,” said Mr. Ephron, referring to a basic research method used by agencies to measure the effectiveness of their advertising messages. “It’s all TV-centric, because that’s how copy is tested today. It’s all about TV commercials.”
Over time, Mr. Ephron said, better measures will be developed for comparing the persuasiveness of other forms of media with that of television, and that TV likely will win some of those comparisons and lose others. Meanwhile, an even more fundamental shift taking place at the highest end of the new model-response-could accelerate the media planning focus from TV to other media.
By using new modeling techniques, advertisers and agencies now can determine the actual effect of media buys on product sales. The basic learning from such models, said Mr. Ephron, is that television is over-used and that any shifts in spending out of TV and into other media creates incremental returns on the media investment.
But the tradeoff isn’t likely to be uniform for all forms of television, he said, adding that while national TV outlets are likely to lose out in the new equation, local TV is likely to benefit.
Embracing ROI
Meanwhile, Mr. Ephron said, an even more fundamental development, TV’s rapidly rising cost, is likely to accelerate the shift out of TV for many advertisers as they develop and embrace return on investment measures based on sales responses. Because other media are growing more cost-efficient relative to TV, they also are likely to generate a better return on sales based on the cost of their media buys, he said.
“Everyone is making a big deal [of] the impact of TiVo and the fact that PVRs are going to reach 30 percent penetration and what the impact will be on TV’s ROI,” explained Mr. Ephron, adding, “But in the last four years, television costs have gone up 30 percent, and that’s just as big an effect on TV’s ROI. And nobody’s writing about that.”