3MS Is Making Good Progress on Good Impressions (ANA Magazine)

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The initiative is on track to develop a standardized measurement for digital media

By Michael J. McDermott

Getting marketers to agree on almost anything can be a challenge. But with multichannel digital engagement becoming de rigueur for all kinds of marketers — B-to-B as well as B-to-C — there’s a groundswell of support for establishing reliable standards for measuring the delivery and impact of digital ads and a method for comparing the results across channels in a meaningful way.

Making Measurement Make Sense (3MS) plays a key role in making that possible. A joint venture of the ANA, the 4A’s, the IAB, and the IAB Tech Lab, 3MS exists to make sure marketers have access to effective, standardized ways to measure the content and advertising that’s being distributed and accessed across digital channels. To do it, 3MS works closely with the Media Rating Council (MRC), an independent body that is responsible for setting and implementing measurement standards. As part of that process, 3MS and the MRC are exploring new ways of measuring digital advertising value.

“As marketers invest substantial marketing and media dollars into digital, they must have reliable standards to measure whether they are getting what they paid for and reaching the targets they want to reach,” says ANA EVP Bill Tucker, who oversees the ANA’s industry advocacy initiatives in measurement. “They need to know if what they are doing is working. The 3MS roadmap provides the infrastructure of standards to deliver against those broad goals.”

Jane Clarke, CEO and managing director at the Coalition for Innovative Media Measurement (CIMM), which includes leading television content providers, media agencies, and advertisers, acknowledges that CIMM’s goal of bringing about full cross-platform measurement “is not achievable without, first, a consensus and industry-wide adoption of standards relating to measurement in digital.” She adds that while CIMM is helping to advance the methodology needed for cross-platform measurement, 3MS is taking on the mantle of adoption for such standards. “We are working closely with 3MS to ensure the use of standards developed by the MRC and applaud all parts of the industry that have come together to make 3MS a reality,” Clarke says.

Establishing a Baseline

In 2011, when the ANA, 4A’s, and IAB agreed that an initiative was needed to develop digital metrics and cross-platform measurement solutions to improve marketing and media-management decision-making capabilities, they developed a set of five principles to guide the 3MS initiative:

  1. Define impressions
  2. Establish audience currency
  3. Create a standard classification of ad units
  4. Define brand ad performance metrics
  5. Establish brand attitudinal measures

In practice, the key objectives of 3MS are to determine the right metrics and solutions, drive industry consensus around those metrics and solutions, and establish a governance model. Early in its creation, working closely with the MRC, 3MS determined that it needed to establish a viewable impression standard for digital ads as the critical foundation of its framework. Achieving that goal was a sometimes arduous two-year process, but in June of 2014, 3MS and the MRC released the Viewable Ad Impression Measurement Guidelines.

The document (updated in 2016) defined numerous terms, including viewable ad impression, invalid impressions, and fraudulent impressions. It stipulated that a valid viewable ad impression occurred when 50 percent or more of a digital ad’s pixels appeared on an in-focus browser tab on the viewable space of the browser page for one continuous second or longer after the ad rendered.

Prior to the new viewability guidelines, the norm in the online ad industry had been to measure only whether an ad had been served, not whether it had been rendered fully enough and long enough for consumers to see it. The new guidelines made it possible for marketers to begin using viewable impressions as a digital currency metric.

Just as important, the long road to reaching consensus on the new standard provided a critical learning experience for all involved.

“You don’t just write that standard and plunk it out there,” says George Ivie, the MRC’s CEO and executive director. “We had hundreds of meetings about viewability, about invalid traffic and fraud.”

Chris Kuist, SVP of research and impact at the IAB, describes the path to consensus on viewability as “an exceptionally valuable process,” one likely to inform 3MS’s efforts in other areas going forward. “I think we learned a great deal from it in terms of how to improve what happens as we roll out these standards,” he says. “We’re taking learnings from that experience and applying them to be smarter as we move forward and roll out new standards.”


Putting Theory into Practice

That 3MS applied the learnings of its initial rollout is evident in the recently released Digital Audience-Based Measurement Standards, which include a one-year grace period for accredited audience measurement services to reach compliance. In a statement announcing their release, the 4A’s described the new standards as “an important and meaningful milestone for the media and marketing industry as we move together toward cross-media measurement — the ultimate goal of 3MS.”

It noted, too, that the length of the adoption period for the standard — the full year of 2018 — is important because “the industry will need time to institute technical and process changes that must be made to be in compliance.”

Louis Jones, EVP of media and data practice at the 4A’s, says that the one-year adoption period is a “big theme,” and it’s a direct outgrowth of lessons learned during the ramp-up to viewability. “At the outset of the viewability standard, there was a lot of confusion about how to get from where we were at that moment in time to some level of understanding of how to quantify viewability,” he says. “Methods, systems — what could actually be captured?”

Jones expects even more challenging issues to arise during the adoption period for digital audience-based measurement, which includes the introduction of the concept of duration-based weighting as a method to better equalize time spent with digital video in a cross-media environment. The concept envisions the creation of a duration-weighted gross rating point (GRP), perhaps to be used in conjunction with the standard GRP.

Under conventional GRP calculus, three people viewing a 15-second digital ad are each assigned one gross impression, regardless of how long they view it, for a net GRP of three. With duration-weighted GRP, they would be assigned fractional impressions based on how long they view the ad. If one person watches five seconds (one-third), the second 10 seconds (two-thirds), and the third the entire ad, the net duration-weighted GRP would be two, not three.

Duration weighting will not be implemented until the new guidelines for cross-media measurement are released. The MRC expects to explore methodologies and data capture requirements over the next year, and it may refine the requirements for duration weighting.

At the same time, the organizations that comprise 3MS will be providing webinars and other sessions to educate, outline the work that’s required, and guide adoption of the new digital audience-based measurement standards. 3MS strongly recommends that all parties refrain from making buyer/seller decisions based on duration-weighting measures until consensus has been reached on implementation. “This is a whole new concept, and it’s controversial,” Jones says. “The process thus far has been painful, and we’re about to go to a whole new level of pain as we move toward cross-media measurement.”

He adds, however, that “nothing good ever comes easy,” and that 4A’s members wholeheartedly support 3MS’s efforts. “We are building toward a more equitable way to look at the value of a dollar spent across different media types, and a lot of the work being done now is to put the digital realm on a comparable basis with traditional media,” Jones says.

3MS expects achieving its ultimate goal of cross-media measurement will provide the following significant benefits to marketers:

  • Enhanced cost effectiveness and efficiency of media spend
  • Accurate and reliable measurement of digital media’s contribution to brand building
  • Better allocation optimization resulting from the ability to conduct meaningful comparisons across platforms
  • Encouraging and enabling the use of better creative and inventory for branding

“3MS is in the process of building out cross-media metrics based on viewable impressions filtered for invalid traffic with duration and target audience characteristics. These things are happening right now, and they are critical for marketers,” says the ANA’s Tucker. “We’re moving toward an audience-based currency rather than gross impressions. … This kind of increased targeting accuracy, coupled with continued advances in the ability to measure advertising value, will lead to increased marketing effectiveness.”



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