What’s your reach? Who cares? Why reach metrics are terribly antiquated

News this evening that AOL’s Platform A is the in terms of reach online.

In fact is was a banner day for AOL’s Platform A in that they secured an exclusive partnership to be the ad manager for Verizon’s Web and mobile platforms.

Kudos to AOL. In terms of the Verizon partnership, this is a bit of a coup, in that one of the hardest things to do right now is exclusively lock up any type of tier 1 or tier 2 inventory.

At the very least if you pay attention to the media plans AOL will put together on Verizon, you should be able to understand what inventory they value on Verizon….and for online marketing that merely translates into what ad placements have a high clickthrough rate.

This gets us back to our point. It is an assumption, but a fairly valid one, that inventory on AOL will be measured in terms of its performance-based, well, performance. However, what value can be placed on reach for an advertiser, specifically a brand advertiser who is measuring their campaign on it.

Reach is essentially a legacy term from back when there were three television networks and Howdy Dowdy was a bread winner. Actually that timing is incorrect, we’re talking more of the Mary Tyler Moore era.

Why did, and I emphasize “did,” reach matter? Because that was the really the only metric an agency could take back to a client. There were not enough outlets or content options to be selective, only enough to saturate. So reach became a viable metric.

However reach is really not the best measurement for online audience.

First, if I purchased a television ad, my ad was guaranteed to be seen and visible on the TV screen. With scroll bars, pop-unders, and fraud, there is absolutely zero guarantee, unless you either pay for it and or somehow validate it, that your ad will appear above the fold on a page and in that case be visible.

Secondly, and many posts on this blog have dealt with this, is the advent of the ad network. Now, a media buyer can get that reach count they are looking for…and at a discount. Where was the ad served?…..Who knows? Who cares as long as the panel shows it?

Third, and probably the most misunderstood and underserviced metric, is in what context was my ad seen. Is it acceptable if I’m Fidelity and I’m looking to distribute a retirement planning campaign to 35-55 year olds and I purchase space on, well AOL, because they skew towards an older demographic? With the reliance on panel data, it most certainly is acceptable (though I may never distribute to a 35-55 year old) and all the pages my campaign distribute on are AOL games while someone is engrossed in a chess game. Because my metric is reach, that is a perfectly acceptable implementation of my campaign.

Pardon, my cynicism, but I am not ready to crown AOL’s platform A as the ultimate ad network based on ComScore’s press release and their reach numbers.

That’s because I know and understand internet distribution and building kingdom’s based upon reach sounds a little to Glam-like to me and not enough of a success metric.

If you’re a media buyer, answer yourself this question: Is it more important that a panel says my reach was nearly 100% for the 35-55 year olds or that I can validate that my ad was placed on content that I somehow validate so as to positively impact my brand?

A perfect opportunity for a disruptive technology is to come up with a service that can appropriate a relative qualitative scoring system to content and correlate that to a campaign and the success or failure of that campaign.

Regardless of the reach that campaign attains.

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1 comment so far

  1. jens on

    I think reach still is important as such – but todays technology should also provide more precise measurement of who is actually reached!

    there are efforts to make that possible, MS is trying, google is and so are many others. the problem is rather that gross rate points as in TV are NOT a measurement which you want to apply to online channels. but it is also not a very precise measurement to count the clicks you receive from search ads, it would become much more so if you would know how often the prospective lead was exposed to the advertisers ad before.

    another issue is exposure and brand awareness as such – for many campaigns things like conversion or response actually not really matter that much. if a car brand introduces a new car you don´t expect them to buy online anyway – you just want to make sure they call a dealer [which is some rather old tech tool – the telephone and there is an excellent blog at http://www.callaffiliates.com%5D

    what is certainly true is that measurements and quantifications have a long way to go, before they are really useful in assessing the value added trough different channels of advertising.


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