The Cult of Accountability

Bryan Noguchi, SVP, Media Director, R2C Group

With so shockingly few converts, it's easy to believe that the mantle of "accountability" in television advertising (really, advertising in any of its forms) would feel like a fringe form of faith.  Mostly, this is a by-product of our tolerance and acceptance of inferior or outdated ideas of what "accountability" even means.  So let's be clear - for our purposes right here, right now, I mean proof of efficacy relative to business and/or advertising objectives.

GRP as Scapegoat

Let's take our most beloved base unit of measure: the Gross Rating Point (GRP).  If my objective is to reach a percentage of an audience at a certain frequency, then the GRP is a good measure of accountability, since it is an expression of both reach and frequency relative to audience.  If my objective is "awareness" or "sales" the GRP leaves much to be desired - it is at best a poor proxy for fractions or parts of key indicators that might point to performance against those goals.  I'm not faulting the GRP - it is what it is, and it's not responsible for being misused or misrepresented.  But when we talk about metrics in advertising, we tend to be overly comfortable with poor proxies:  it's akin to using "centimeters" to measure time, which can work if you know what the circumference of the clock face is, but really it's more practical to use minutes and seconds (which, by the way, eliminates the conundrum of people having clocks of varying diameters, so kudos to the inventors of telling time!)

Want and Need

Basically, a chasm tends to exist between what I can reliably express as a metric, and what I need to be measuring.  Television advertising has tended to be measured from two poles: response (as in Direct Response TV) and delivery (as in audience delivery, i.e., the GRP.)  The thing is, these aren't mutually exclusive positions, and the reality is that response is largely dependent upon delivery, though this tends to be overlooked because cost often gets tied to action rather than delivery.  Plus, as it turns out, delivery alone tends to be a poor indicator of response performance, which underscores the fact that the third variable (cost) is pretty freaking important.  This is actually a super exciting point because now I have a holy trinity on which I can base my new cult!

Cost.  Delivery.  Response.

Someone tell me what these three words are in Latin, and we can chant them together - it'll be like those monks in Monty Python and the Holy Grail who hit themselves in the head with boards!  Seriously, these are the blocks with which we can now iterate almost endlessly against hard objectives: cost per action, response rates, relative media efficiency.  But we can also start to deal with more abstract problems, for example, the relationship between the relative cost of inventory and response - a potential proxy for impact and media quality.  I feel like a jerk for devoting so much energy to these basics, but I happen to believe that we're in an era where losing sight of the fundamentals is part of the standard operating procedure.  I think this is because the technologies at our disposal are so fantastic - how could we not be able to answer the basics?!  We believe truth lies in the data we generate, and while that's probably correct, we generate so much of it, we've become sort of bad at interpreting and presenting it.  As a result, I think we're not establishing good causal relationships between performance and our campaigns.

The Quest

That leaves one thing we all really need to solve for:  Attribution.  There's "direct attribution" which is basically "this click" or "this exposure" resulted in this sale: maybe you had a unique 800 number on your commercial, or perhaps someone did indeed click on a digital banner and completed a transaction on your site.  Or "advanced attribution" which effectively says that "this click, which resulted in this sale" is actually the culmination of a series of exposures across various channels at a variety of frequencies, and each touch point deserves a fraction of credit for that sale.  So, speaking of grails, this is where we ultimately need to net out: understanding how our advertising contributed (individually and as part of a whole) to tangible business objectives.  Every medium or channel I leverage, every ad I place has some effect on a final outcome, and we won't be able to quantify this without first committing ourselves to accountability.