When Reach Is A Stretch

ted“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 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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  1. Ramsey McGrory

    Love Ted’s ruminations. Ted was an architect of P&G’s Hawkeye initiative and he sees it…early. Favorite line – ‘as the ecosystem gets smarter, both content and ads will be targeted in ways that mercifully ignore the people we can’t persuade”

  2. John Dempsey

    Fantastic post, Ted!

    There’s a lot of buzz from online video marketers about the ability to target TV Audiences online. But too often it’s used as a blunt instrument to capture digital dollars from TV budgets.

    Buying a TV show on a GRP is a proxy for buying a demo audience. That demo audience itself is a proxy for the target audience that is likely to buy your product.

    If it’s the demo you want online, buy the demo directly. If you want people who are likely to buy your product (based on past purchase history or other behavior), then buy that directly. Go a step further and measure the effectiveness of your online advertising all the way back to in-store sales (another thing TV lacks).

    In full transparency, we at DLX market TV audiences too (through our partnership with TiVO/TRA). And those are great for finding audiences likely to tune-in to a particular show or to re-target people who likely saw your ad on TV. In the right context, it’s a killer product.

    I agree that the GRP isn’t going away anytime soon. And it’s a useful common denominator for TV buyers to understand what they’re getting online. But if your ultimate goal is to sell more toothpaste, there are more efficient and effective ways to doing that–and ways to prove out the ROI.

    John Dempsey
    Head of Mobile & Video, Datalogix

  3. Mark McLaughlin

    Ted, we met recently and I became an instant fan of your insights and wisdom.

    But, your readers here don’t have enough depth of perspective to take you message the right way.

    Eventually, the digerati will embrace the idea that the 100 Leading National Advertisers and/or all of the Fortune 500 who sell branded products to consumers use GRPs because they are smart advertisers. Those of us who live on the LUMAscape cling to the idea that all of these companies use GRPs because they are dumb. That just might be true but don’t encourage your readers to bet their company on it. Explaining why GRPs are obsolete BEFORE demonstrating that you can deliver them in the first place is definitely not a path to a seat at the table where the big boys carve up huge advertising budgets.

    The denial of the importance of the GRP by born-digital industry executives is the single biggest reason that all of their growth over the past decade came from telemarketing, direct mail, yellow pages and classified advertising. TV budgets have grown during this time frame which, I guess, is just a reaffirmation of the immense stupidity of the best marketing companies in the world.

  4. John Dempsey

    Mark, nobody said the GRP was obsolete. Marketers understand the metric extremely well, and it’s deeply ingrained into the the industry standard planning and buying systems. I applaud the work of digital ad tech companies who are building GRP-like metrics into their platforms to create a common standard across both.

    TV is still king when it comes to finding massive reach; and it’s certainly where the engagement lies. Americans watch an average of 4+ hours of TV a day. About half as many households view online video, and there it’s around 20 minutes a day. TV remains the easiest way to spend the big bucks–you can buy high-quality engagement efficiently without the worry about brand safety or botnet impressions.

    The point Ted is making is that the GRP can over-simplify the goal. First consider the marketing objective carefully, and then select the right metrics and right channel for the job.

  5. Peter Orban

    What I hear Ted say is what Ramsey also heard “… both content and ads will be targeted in ways that mercifully ignore the people we can’t persuade.” Amen.

  6. JIm Spanfeller

    Have to say I think Mark makes some very good points here. I was very anti GRPs for the web in the early days but have since come around to the thought that we have a real need here for just such a metric.

    I feel this way for several reasons…and I do not think these necessarily conflict with Ted’s core points but…

    First, the GRP, as Mark infers, is indeed the language of the folks with the big budgets. If it is there dollars we want, then maybe we should start with their metrics. I realize that we can use the one to one communication of the web to develop a more specific metric but…it is their money so it is their sandbox.

    Second and as a riff off my first point, I worry that with our push towards targeting we are getting caught up in a process that reduces the effectiveness of what advertising is supposed to do…creating demand. To do that we have to reach lots of people. Being too targeted can get in the way of that. So like everything else…when it comes to creating demand (vs. fulfilling it) targeting is great but in moderation. And lets do keep in mind that any type of targeting is really only a proxy for finding people who might be excited by a product or a service.

    Finally I would take just a moment to push back on Ted’s plea for amnesty around cookies. The much maligned cookie is of course not really the issue here. What is the issue are all the activities that are done using it. Some of these are fine but all too many (especially in the third party space) are not fine. It is not that someone can get hurt by seeing an ad…clearly they cannot…but they can get hurt by too much of their personal information being harvested without their knowledge or consent. At the end of the day the consumer is really our golden goose…lets not make them hate us please.