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The Only Four Metrics a Converged Campaign Needs

by Todd Butler
December 17, 2018

Bitcoin and cryptocurrencies have been a hot topic in the media industry.  Although they are important to the future of our financial transactions, media convergence is approaching faster. So that the industry is ready, we must firmly and finally establish a single currency to standardize the buying of advertising across television and digital. The debate is far from over, but I argue that the impression is the only currency that can truly bridge all media platforms today.  Here’s why.

Impressions are the most basic performance indicator

First, what is an impression? Impressions, or ‘eyeballs,’ represent one single individual who has watched an advertisement.  And while there may be many other KPIs to measure an ad, the simplest and most basic measure has always, and will always be, “did they see it?”  Impressions are indivisible.  No one purchases half an impression.  Either someone watched, or they didn’t.  They are the least common denominator representing the attention of an individual.

Impressions mean the same thing across all platforms

A common argument is that “digital eyeballs aren’t the same as TV eyeballs,” and it’s true that they are delivered and measured differently because of inherent platform differences.  Impressions are digitally delivered one at a time through a connected device such as a PC, mobile phone or tablet.  TV impressions are delivered in bunches called ‘spots.’  A spot during one program might deliver 1,000,000 ‘eyeballs,’ while another might only get 500,000. (To keep this simple, let’s ignore Smart TVs for now and assume ‘eyeballs’ also includes ‘ears’ for those radio listeners.) But at the end of the day, an eyeball is an eyeball – regardless of the platform. 

Impressions are a universally available metric

If you play in the digital world, you probably can’t believe I’m not choosing a metric with ‘click’ in its name as the universal currency.  That is because it will, unfortunately, be some time before every ad on TV is ‘clickable.’ 

Syndication, local TV, and local cable clients aren’t interested in giving up GRPs as their preferred currency because their business processes have been established over decades using the almighty GRP as the standard unit of trade.  Impressions, however, are more universally included in deals.  It’s also already a basic element of GRPs, so converting those inventory spreadsheets should be a breeze.  (Never mind that the process of summing percentages is blasphemous!)

It is critical that the industry use universally available metrics if the goal is standard measurement for cross-device campaigns.  No metric is more universal than impressions. 

CPM as an exchange rate

As reliable as impressions are to measure attention, they can’t do it alone.  Like any good superhero, they do their best work with a sidekick.  Impressions need to be translated into real money, and that’s where the CPM becomes the second key metric for cross-device.  The CPM allows one to compare or set a relative value between products and programs, inventory types and platforms, regions and locations. 

A linear impression may cost more than digital impressions because watching a :30 spot means there was higher engagement.  Buyers can negotiate a lower price if they perceive unsatisfactory amounts of waste or prevalence of fraud.  Superior ability to reach specifically targeted individuals, the trust level in measurement mechanisms, or more rigorous viewability standards are all reasons to raise or lower the relative value of an impression.  Whatever the reason, the value of an individual impression is represented by the CPM.

Reach and Frequency

While these two metrics are almost all you need, the entire purpose of cross-device is to reach a specific target as efficiently and as completely as possible.  Therefore, Reach and Frequency are the last two of the core four metrics of media convergence.  Particularly in a cross-device campaign, the risk of duplication is high. Needlessly messaging the same people repeatedly results in wasted budget and audience overexposure. 

Core Four Metrics

Deciding on common metrics is the first step as we move toward the true convergence of linear + digital media. These core four metrics—Impressions, CPM, Reach, and Frequency, are the Four Horsemen of Conversion and must be tracked on every plan.  Sure there are other contenders, but only these four have the universal utility, availability, and consistency. They can be measured at every level of a deal, from the overall campaign to the platform, device, inventory type, screen, package, product, program, line, unit, spot or impression. 

After 20 years in Media, I’m confident in my assessment and in many ways, my organization is betting our future on it.  Whether you agree or think I’m completely wrong, I’d love to hear from you, because this is a standard the industry needs to establish once and for all.