Today’s column is written by Ted McConnell, an independent consultant in the digital marketing space.
Six years ago, a brand manager approached me with a request for her new online campaign. “We need more reach,” she said.
I told her the plan reached virtually every person in the United States who could possibly use her product. The targeting was nearly perfect. She had more than enough budget to reach everyone who mattered – twice.
Her response: “The model shows reach sufficiency at double the current plan, so let’s get more.”
But how much reach is “sufficient” when you have miraculous targeting?
With TV, a gross rating point gives you, reliably, the number of viewable impressions to a demographic target group as a percentage of the total available audience. It rallies the competitive spirit. It gives you something you can count, count on and compare. It’s a beautiful thing, as long as you frame your audience goals in terms that television can offer.
The Rainbow Has A Mustache
But what if my target specification is people who became dissatisfied with their shampoo? How many of those are there? How many will there be next month? What percentage of that target group will I get when I buy WSJ.com?
It becomes a stretch to make that into a GRP. For all the hard work brands do to define a prime prospect, it usually ends up as a demographic target.
A GRP casts markets in terms that TV can deliver, but in doing so glosses over the potential of online because the Internet, at its best, can go right to the heart of the matter. Who do we really want to impress? We can be elegant and accurate, unless we limit our aspirations to the constraints of broadcast media.
OK, men don’t buy tampons, so in some cases, good demographic targeting and buying will provide a modicum of efficiency, but reducing humans to age and gender is famously flawed. We only did that in TV because we didn’t have a choice. But now we do.
Speaking directly to those with whom you can win is a huge advantage. Online, with a little guile, you can coax the media to deliver exactly what you wanted, no matter how convoluted the target specification. The implied proposition of mass media is that even with a sparse target, if you talk to everybody, your prospects are in there. It’s like standing on Times Square spouting religious talk and feeling sure that one of those godless people will change their mind.
Cultivating An Audience
A target-rich audience, demographics notwithstanding, is a godsend for an advertiser. Even a slight skew toward the mind you can change is a big advantage over a slight skew in, say, age. ROIs improve when the media delivers a demographic, but they soar when the audience is really looking for a solution to a problem your brand can solve. Online, you can cultivate, curate and hone your audience. That’s what people do with big data.
How many GRPs do I need to reach my audience of left-handed mechanics? Who cares? Just find a way to let them find you and wait. There has always been a gap in the media industry between target specifications and the offerings of media companies, but online, the GRP tends to proliferate that gap, not close it.
The Pros And Cons Of GRPs
The GRP, by virtue of being the lingua franca of planning, buying and accountability, makes life comfortable. How much did we need, how much did we get and how much inventory is available? It has the squishy comfort of a slider. It’s an easy-to-access shortcut to buying and planning media – the Big Mac of measures. It makes audiences generic. It turns attention into a commodity. Maybe we should call it the “McGRP.” More than 30 trillion sold!
However, as the ecosystem gets smarter, both content and ads will be targeted in ways that mercifully ignore the people we can’t persuade. The so-called ecosystem has its issues, but it has had the same impact on advertising that deregulation had on telephone service. It has spurred innovation, lowered prices, and increased competition. The agility of the ecosystem makes the GRP look like a blunt instrument. The only thing that can stop it now would be the government.
So, I conclude this rumination with the following pleas:
• To members of Congress: Please understand that regulating against cookies ensures that, in several years, you will be throwing the game to big platforms, such as Google, who will look a lot like AT&T did in 1985 – harvesting profit by sitting on a government-subsidized infrastructure. Move on. Nobody has died from seeing an ad.
• To the digital media industry: Don’t fall in love with the digital GRP. It’s a tool, but a blunt one. I love craft beer and Grace Potter; I doubt a beer company or record label would consider me a demographic target, but they would based on this behavior.
The GRP casts my attention as a commodity and, as you know, it’s not.
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