To Navigate Advertising Uncertainty, Marketers Must Aim To Maximize Unduplicated Reach


Advertising today is filled with uncertainty. Some of the greatest unknowns revolve around consumers’ rapid adoption of streaming video, enabled by Netflix, YouTube, Hulu and Amazon. This new legion of over-the-top (OTT) streaming video service providers has a variety of business models, all contributing to the disruption.

Every aspect of the video and TV media business is in flux – from content creation to distribution, to ad-free subscription viewing. What is certain is streaming’s impact on the TV and digital advertising businesses will be profound, and equilibrium is still a long way off.

When confronted with risk and complexity, it often helps to refer to fundamentals. Reach and frequency are two foundational advertising elements that are relevant across the board, from hypertargeted digital ad campaigns to broadcast commercials. Whether you use custom first-party data segments, third-party data sets or your own first-party custom segments, you still need to account for the ad buy.

Measuring the penetration of your ad campaign into the target audience segment (reach) and the number of times you made contact (frequency) are key. This data is core to evaluating the return on media spend and the allocation of ad budgets across channels and platforms.

Managing reach is a good place to anchor campaign playbooks and the associated analytic learning agenda. Without reach there is no impression – and therefore no influence, contribution to conversion or other behavior changes. The most memorable creative and compelling offers are for naught if the intended audience never receives the message. On the other hand, an advertiser that achieves 15% more reach than competitors into its target market can expect proportional upside to surface in the bottom line.

It’s easy to lose focus on reach metrics when working within the confines of an individual walled garden or publisher platform. From inside the walls the gardens can look beautiful, especially through the lens of bottom-line performance. Ad sellers – especially those that offer interactivity, such as Facebook click-throughs, or visibility to post-campaign behavior, like Amazon purchases, can deploy algorithms that optimize for performance, not reach. This enables remarkable levels of bottom-line return on ad spend, but only within a single audience universe and subject to available inventory against that audience.  

For most advertisers, the goal is to get a campaign in front of as many of the target audience as possible, not just the portion that a single publisher or platform reaches. In other words, the goal is to maximize a campaign’s unduplicated reach. But media fragmentation creates hurdles to managing the reach and frequency fundamentals. Multiple sellers, data formats and approaches to identity and audience data integration lead to limited options for reliable, independent measurement. This dynamic plays out across media, but also within individual channels.

There is no better example of single channel fragmentation today than OTT. Collectively, OTT accounts for a substantial and rapidly-growing slice of time-spent viewing, especially among young adults. But just try to put together an integrated view of your streaming video advertising – the exercise is akin to working on a 1,000-piece puzzle upside down, with half the pieces missing.

The advertising business is adapting to address the challenge of unduplicated reach, but change takes time. The Media Ratings Council’s recently finalized Cross-Media Audience Measurement Standards are a substantial step in the right direction. Likewise, agency holding companies’ acquisitions of data specialists like Dentsu-MerkleIPG-Acxiom and Publicis-Epsilon suggest a future characterized by more standardized, portable audience segments and more sophisticated media performance measurement.

In the meantime, there are several things that advertisers can do to get ahead:

Take an integrated approach to TV and video advertising: If they haven’t already, advertisers should start to pull together TV, streaming and digital video to coordinate (and unify) budgeting, creative, scheduling, buying and measurement. To begin, they should standardize audience segments as much as practically possible across digital, TV and OTT, and focus on enhancing reach by informing media plans with both TV and digital data. Finally, they should take advantage of data-enabled tactics that allow for ads in one channel, such as digital, to be targeted specifically at people who were not reached in another channel, such as TV.

Focus on the big picture, not just big data: Large scale data sets of audience and ad impression data are critical inputs. Advertisers can’t let technical or measurement constraints paralyze decision making. Directional indicators can provide actionable insight into overall dynamics, including the substantial decline in traditional TV ratings and the growing reach of streaming video into younger audiences. Traditional media-planning techniques like geotargeting and dayparting can be deployed to great effect and applied consistently across broadcast, digital, social and other media.

Build a cross-channel advertising culture: Success in a fragmented and uncertain media environment depends on the team. Regardless of how work is divided between agencies and internal resources, advertisers that focus on aligning goals and incentives across TV and digital stand the greatest chance of success. Align incentives and goals to build a multidisciplinary culture that spans media planning, buying and measurement. Fluid translation back and forth between digital and TV concepts is key. It’s also important to master data dialects, from market research to match rates and projections to identity resolution.

There is a window of opportunity as streaming video and ad-free subscription services roil the media landscape and the industry slowly adapts to new planning and measurement needs. Innovative advertisers who can manage foundational metrics can capture meaningful competitive advantage. Nowhere is this opportunity greater than in the domain of cross-channel video and TV advertising.

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