In Grab For Brand Dollars, AOL Baits Hook With Nielsen’s Online GRP

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GRPDepending who you ask, momentum for an online GRP measurement standard is either the best answer the online video business has to unlocking billions of TV ad dollars or it’s a menacing hand from the past come to smother web video metrics in the cradle.

The latest major player, and first publisher of size, to throw its weight behind the standard is AOL. This week, the company has embraced Nielsen’s eight-month-old GRP product, Online Campaign Ratings, to let ad buyers verify their campaigns’ success at reaching a target demographic. This approach is defined against the clicks and impressions-driven standard that has so far led the way online.

The general argument for the GRP to be applied online is that advertisers need an “apples-to-apples comparison” in order to justify their spending. After all, decisions about ad spending are not done an ad hoc basis. They’re part of a larger allocation of marketing budgets and in order to make sense of it, advertisers want to be sure that a dollar spent in one area of the web is the same as a dollar spent elsewhere.

TV dollars for online video: For partisans in the online video space, the appeal of the GRP makes further sense: it’s the primary metric used to measure TV viewing. So if you want to bridge the gap between TV and online video, it makes sense to apply the traditional metric to the new space.

In attempting to satisfy that view, Nielsen’s position is that the GRP supports other media such as radio or print, not just online and offline video, a rep for the audience ratings company told AdExchanger. It’s a traditional metric to quantify the size of an audience, which should be considered a critical metric regardless of the medium.

For those who look askance at the value of the GRP as a metric for online video or the web generally, the view is that digital is too complex to be counted within the confines of a procrustean metric like the GRP, which is really about counting how many pairs of eyeballs tuned into to a piece of content. Users watch all kinds of video in all kinds of ways and the GRP doesn’t begin to measure the value of something that has been shared on Facebook by a friend or whether it was seen randomly and somewhat absently.

A tool, not “the tool”: Nielsen is quick to note that the GRP is just one of several metrics that are key to measuring the overall effectiveness of a campaign. “That’s why we provide a full suite of solutions including ad breakthrough and brand impact measures, and intend to incorporate ad verification and viewability into Online Campaign Ratings as well,” the Nielsen rep said.

The clients AOL expects to woo, not surprisingly, are big brands that spend billions on television placements and, increasingly, online as well, but pine for a common measurement currency they can thread through both mediums. According to Charles Gabriel, VP of Sales for AOL Video, the company hopes to command a price premium of 20 to 50 percent over the $18 to $20 CPM it currently gets for high quality video on its owned and operated sites.

Several agencies, speaking with AdExchanger, threw cautious support behind the move.

“It’s a strong statement and it differentiates them from their premium video competitors (who may feel compelled to follow),” said John Montgomery, COO, GroupM Interaction, USA. “We are working closely with Nielsen on OCR and are very engaged in the whole area of viewability and cross campaign metrics (XCR) – not just with Nielsen but with Compete and Comscore as well. We have tests in progress with three clients but this is far from conclusive – we have a lot to learn in this area particularly across offline and online.”

Opening a new ad front: Will AOL capture more client spend through the program? “They might, but I don't think this is a game changer,” says Montgomery. “We are hoping that the entire industry will be measured this way soon. The quality of the content and the audience will always be the strongest consideration.”

Tracey Scheppach, EVP, innovations director for Vivaki, sees potential for online GRP to support client spending, but she voices some caution about a return to rating points. She notes Publicis’s media buying hub has tested Nielsen’s system with about a dozen clients, but says it’s not only about Nielsen and AOL.

“Common currency is something the industry needs and continues to move towards,” she said. “However, we need to challenge each other to move beyond our focus on age/sex rating points and start looking at our strategy targets. In the world of addressability, we need to know more than just the age range and gender of our viewing audience. This applies to TV as well as online video.”

Scheppach continued, “Online GRP has the potential to deliver agencies a breadth of insights across platforms, but we should be looking at this as delivering against our strategic targets and not just age/sex targets. We’re beyond talking about the target as an 18- to 34-year-old female. I was three completely different people in that time - college student, wife and mother. Instead, we are looking at the viewer through a sophisticated lens that lets us deliver impressions that matter, with products like Audience on Demand and the blueprint for addressability on TV.”

Yolanda Lam, MediaVest SVP, digital group client director, sees AOL’s move as indicative of more sensitivity among ad sellers to the priorities of brand advertisers. “Certainly this is the online marketplace making meaningful strides to shift some TV dollars to online. The notion of video everywhere is what this is driving toward and we at MediaVest are supportive of that as well.

With the television upfront drawing renewed attention from premium online video companies, Lam believes now is a good time for those companies to prime the pump for an influx of TV dollars. The digital NewFront, hosted by Digitas with involvement from “I think this is the right time to have that acceleration. All those participants at the NewFront have been investing heavily in content creation.”

The drawback of GRPs: The risk to AOL and other ad sellers, if there is one, could come as a byproduct of setting prices for online GRP campaigns. If ad sellers price improperly and only hit 30- to 50 percent of an advertiser’s target audience, as determined by Nielsen, then they’re only going to receive a that portion of the CPM they’re putting on the table, says AOL’s Gabriel.

“This could be a problem for some of the video ad networks, that don’t have their own audience,” AOL’s Gabriel said. “It could be very difficult for them to hit a high percentage of audience.”

However, having trialed the Nielsen program, Gabriel is reasonably confident that AOL will not have an issue meeting the reach and frequency goals guaranteed through its participation.

Since its launch last August, Nielsen claims the GRP offering has been used in more than 600 campaigns on behalf of 50 brands – totaling more than 30 billion impressions – and that ads have appeared on 400-plus web properties. So far it’s available strictly in the U.S., but will expand to the U.K. and other global markets beginning later this year, Nielsen told us.

AOL is the first major publisher to offer audience demographic guarantees to advertisers based on OCR data.
Nielsen is currently in talks with “all major publishers” and expects to announce additional agreements in the future, was all the company would. Some publishers may already be offering guarantees, but Nielsen is not always informed of the specific use of our measurement.

Despite the vagueness of the further rollout of the OCR program, Nielsen has distinct advantages in getting major brands to adopt its metrics.

“Nielsen is the de facto standard in terms of measurement and audience delivery,” Gabriel said. “Whether TV buyers are comfortable with Nielsen in regards to the television world, you’d have to ask them. But the reality is they’ve been used for quite a long time and it makes sense to have them create that common currency across both mediums.”

The announcement was timed with AOL’s planned online upfront event next week in New York. At the so-called Digital Content NewFront presentation, AOL says it will premier “significant video opportunities” for marketers.

AOL’s current original video content includes Sessions, Heidi Klum on AOL, Moviefone’s Unscripted, and The Engadget Show.

By Zach Rodgers and David Kaplan

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