Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Accounting for reach: the IAB goes dictionary

The Interactive Advertising Bureau (henceforth, IAB) has released a set of Online Audience Reach Measurement standards for public comment (here).

One might ask what took so long...then again, it is easy to forget that the explosion in approaches to audience measurement--commensurate with widespread adoption of the web and broadband--is fairly recent by historical advertising standards.

The IAB puts it's intent thusly:

"This document is intended principally to guide the definition and application of measures that are to be used for commercial, revenue-generation purposes, and not necessarily those that may be developed and used for other internal or related non-commercial uses."

In other words (mine), now that the traditional media buying entities have accepted online advertising with vigor, we need to ensure that there are some common definitions around what publishers represent and what an online ad buyer can buy...definitions that accommodate the way they are used to buying traditional media.

In some ways I suppose this is an inevitable outcome of the promise of measurement online colliding with the reality of media planning offline. Offline media planning and buying has been all about identifying under of over indexing against spartan human descriptions like age, gender and race (an oversimplification I know, but also a point of understanding I hope).

So codifying definitions of reach and the ways in which they are measured is certainly to be applauded by those entrusted with buying media the old way. How one defines unique visitors, time spent on site, page views and the more obscure implications of technologies like flash, ajax or server-side applications can all result in widely varying estimates of reach.

Advertisers, publishers and everyone involved in the planning, buying and followthrough of online advertising will benefit from transparency and standardization. When a publisher reports that they have 80% reach among a target audience online, the IAB guidelines should help advertisers and their agents make a decision with some certainty that they understand where the 80% came from. It should help them evaluate CPM-based ad rates with more precision.

If you are a reach and frequency fan, then these are good for you.

It is not apparent, though, how any of this addresses the larger issues of pay-for-performance, engagement, user control, or return on investment. If you are focussed on engaging a smaller, long tail audience more intensely, then these guidelines won;t do your bidding.

These guidelines may help in developing unique, campaign-specific metrics aligned with real business objectives: cost reduction, sales, and service aligned with customer value are but a few examples...but these types of goals will require more than is contained in any set of advertising measures.

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