Fútbol, Football And A Move Past Last-Touch Attribution

jeffgreen“Data-Driven Thinking” is written by members of the media community and contains fresh ideas on the digital revolution in media.

Today’s column is written by Jeff Green, founder and CEO at The Trade Desk.

While I joined my fellow Americans in catching World Cup fever, I couldn’t help but lose some steam after the US fell to Belgium. Germany’s victory was a well-fought, well-played win, which I was happy to celebrate with my German colleagues.

Throughout the tournament, though, I was struck by how often goals, and the goal-scorer, were the only plays and players featured in highlights. It made me think of the challenges we face as marketers in RTB in dealing with the old-school method of last-touch attribution. How can we, as data-driven marketers, continue to assign credit for campaign conversions in such a myopic way?

The problem is that last-touch and last-click attribution have been a pretty consistent standard. Collectively evolving to something better is one of the hardest changes to make in advertising. It is also one of the most important next milestones for our industry. As many others look back on lessons from the World Cup, I find myself looking ahead to a different kind of football – the upcoming NFL season – for a model of how we can improve in RTB.

As a first step, advertisers should take a lesson from the football field and measure team performance at every position. The burst in popularity of fantasy leagues tapped into this insight by giving fans the opportunity to track yards rushed, passing yards, sacks, blocked kicks and more, in addition to the scoring plays you’ll see on ESPN come September. This look at the whole field, and not just the end zone, is where we should take our cue.

For media agencies, measuring performance at every level in digital media, especially with the ability to adjust in real time, means that view-through credit beyond last-touch is an integral part of the marketing plan and not an exception. It is becoming the new standard. View-through credit maps the user’s journey from first impression to conversion, whether they converted from a click-through or visited the advertiser’s site independently after being served enough ads to sway them into buying online. It’s what offline advertising always struggled to understand: Did my customer buy my product because of that billboard or my newspaper ads? Or did both contribute?

“Only in online advertising do we give credit to the guy who got there last,” a speaker joked at a recent ad tech conference in Berlin.

We seem foolish when it’s put so simply, but the truth is that attribution among many players on a media plan is a challenge. Yet we persist: Last-touch attribution on a media plan means you’re paying the receiver because he was the one who caught the pass in the end zone. But we’d be silly not to credit the offensive line and the quarterback.

Digital is capable of so much more. We can measure everything. Marketers can incentivize their agents to play the game a better way.

Being able to watch the entire transaction take place, a marketer can identify if the consumer first saw the ad on Facebook and later visited a site where they were retargeted through display before eventually buying the item. Understanding how a series of plays leads to a goal is very useful for marketers that want to build long-term success. It’s why advertisers and their agencies have to count on their DSPs to come to the table as a teammate and not just a vendor at the end of the chain.

We’re all contributing to the win, and we can measure it.

Follow Jeff Green (@jefftgreen) and AdExchanger (@adexchanger) on Twitter.

Enjoying this content?

Sign up to be an AdExchanger Member today and get unlimited access to articles like this, plus proprietary data and research, conference discounts, on-demand access to event content, and more!

Join Today!


  1. I always love a good step forward like this in Attribution awareness and how the quarterback plays a role too. Spot on points.
    As an ‘aside’ addendum – I’d warn that the very same reason we love digital (because of the measurement and very ‘linear’ factor) can also be the very same reason we should be cautious of measuring ‘just’ digital. We need to always look away from the single ‘combined tracking’ lens/cookie stitching to say ‘if this were a Freakonomics article/story – what am I missing? Was there a competitors TV campaign running this week? Was the weather so bad, that people stayed indoors and shopped online this weekend?’

    Attribution, I have found is very much about ‘constant enrichment of your view/knowledge of your customer’ to stimulate further ‘what if’; it should rarely be used as part of an activation algorithm.

  2. jeremy Gold


    This analogy doesn’t work. Unlike “futbol” where goals that can only occur through collaboration and teamwork; consumer transactions can occur regardless of the advertising that users are exposed to during their period of discovery and consideration. Multi-touch attribution does not solve for determining the effectiveness of advertising if you aren’t controlling for users who would have taken the action regardless of exposure.