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Bringing Back the Feels to Audience Measurement

Coke commercial
(Image credit: Coke commercial)

Having spent the first 15 years of my career as an ad agency copywriter, I am finely attuned to the notion that TV commercials are not interchangeable widgets and that some commercials have far more impact than others. 

Alan Wolk

(Image credit: Alan Wolk)

This was why the creative departments of ad agencies reigned supreme for most of the previous century, the notion being that a really well done TV spot would be far more effective at both juicing sales and improving a brand’s image than a poorly executed one and that the ability to create such spots was a unique talent.

Unfortunately, that premise did not translate to online display advertising, where creative has often come to be regarded as a commodity, and where the subjective part of advertising--how the ad made people feel--was rarely, if ever, part of the conversation and even more rarely part of the metrics by which the success of a campaign was measured.

Which is why it’s very exciting to see that iSpot, a company that is busy redefining TV measurement in many ways, has now added the subjective to their arsenal with their purchase of Ace Metrix, an established player whose survey-based metrics gauge how consumers feel after seeing an ad. 

This is, in many ways, a much bigger deal than it may appear to be on the surface.

For years, TV was measured by Nielsen ratings which kept marketers apprised of which audiences had seen their ads. They then used a wide array of other methods—some legitimate, many specious—to understand consumers’ subjective reactions to the campaigns.

That has been changing, though, as the shift to streaming provides a wealth of more specific data around viewership, and TV measurement companies, Nielsen included, are adding more data-driven digital style metrics.

This is a positive development as it allows brands to understand exactly which consumers have seen their commercials, when they saw them, how much duplication there was between various platforms and, with attribution metrics, what steps the consumer took after seeing the ads.

What digital-style metrics neglect to measure, however, is the emotional impact of the ad.

This is not some touchy-feely metric either. The advantage TV commercials have over digital ads is that well-done advertisement will create an emotional connection with the viewer. As network executives are fond of pointing out, there’s a reason people remember TV commercials they saw 20 years ago, while they’re hard-pressed to recall banner ads they saw 20 minutes ago.

TV offers sight, sound and motion on a very big screen. This is why brands spend millions of dollars on production alone, flying staff around the world to create something that resembles a 30- or 60-second movie. 

By allowing brands to understand just how these creative units make people feel, advertisers can better understand the effectiveness of their ad budgets.

What’s key to remember here is that not all audiences will have the same emotional reaction to an ad. Older viewers, for instance, may find a particular spot very funny and report that it made them feel more positive about a brand, while the same spot had a more limited impact on younger viewers. 

That is very useful information for brands to have as they can use today’s advanced targeting to send that particular ad campaign to older consumers while sending another campaign to younger viewers. (This is the beauty of addressable advertising, which is growing in leaps in bounds with the shift to streaming and the introduction of linear addressable solutions from the likes of Project OAR and Nielsen.)

The other advantage to understanding consumers' emotional reaction to specific creative is financial. As I’d noted earlier, TV commercials, especially those created for big brands, can easily run into the tens of millions of dollars for production alone. 

Understanding the relationships between how consumers felt about a new campaign and what actions these commercials drive when they run on specific networks and platforms is incredibly valuable data that can help a brand decide whether to increase spending on that concept or pivot to a different concept.

It also allows a brand to understand how all of the various elements of a campaign work together—the brand impact of the creative along with the business outcomes of the campaign—and to adjust accordingly.

If a particular campaign is well liked by viewers but does not seem to be driving any sort of sales activity, brands can see whether the problem is with the creative (maybe it needs a stronger call to action) or with the media plan (is there too much repetition with segments of the audience that already own the product?)

For decades, ad agencies were judged on the quality of their creative rather than the quality of their media buys. As iSpot and others in the space are able to provide better and richer stats about the performance of a brand’s ad campaigns across multiple platforms, it’s heartening to see a renewed recognition of the fact that TV creative is not, in fact, interchangeable and that understanding consumers’ subjective reactions to that creative still has real value in TV’s new streaming-based ecosystem.