This is the first in a series of blog posts on online advertising metrics.
Agreement on what different metrics mean is key to put them to productive use. We are currently in the middle of writing up a dictionary for Rich, so that our users can better understand what they are looking at and make easier for them learn how to improve. But getting a proper definition of metrics is not easy, and looking at how other companies use their metrics is not much help.
Take Reach for example, perhaps the most central concept in any media plan. The basic concept for reach is very simple - as the name implies, how manyunique individuals did our campaign reach? It does not include any qualitative aspects, such as how many times did we reach each person on average (so called average frequency) or how much impact we got on average for each individual reached. It’s just a raw number - How. Many. Individuals?
Historically, reach has been calculated in different ways depending on media, for instance combining consumer behavior studies and raw distribution in print and a black box combination of set top boxes, phone surveys etc. in TV.
When digital advertising came of age, the industry rejoiced since we could now shoot out a reach metric based on direct observation (usually some cookie counting scheme) rather than some shady statistical model. So in our reports, we get exact numbers. Very impressive. Makes it seem like we really know our stuff, right? However, this is all bullshit. With consumers deleting cookies like crazy and government regulation making it increasingly hard to record user behavior, this model is getting increasingly unsustainable.
I know, I know, there are ways of improving your data integrity thru Flash cookies, device fingerprinting (browser, OS, resolution etc.). At Burt we naturally do things like this, but since people increasingly access online media thru multiple browsers on multiple devices in multiple places, we’re fighting a battle that can’t be won.
Clearly, we have to give up on to the notion that cookies = reach. Stop pretending like we got the exact numbers nailed. Start talking about individuals when describing reach in digital advertising - not cookies, fingerprints etc. Until the singularity hits, advertising is meant to influence human beings, not machines.
At least for now, people buy stuff, computers don’t.