How ISBA's Origin plan measures up

TV broadcasters are unconvinced by ISBA’s cross-media measurement platform, but is it simply time they left the past behind?

How ISBA's Origin plan measures up

What could be problematic about the industry coming together to devise a cross-media measurement system? If the progression of ISBA’s Origin project is anything to go by, the answer appears to be quite a few things.

ISBA is developing a prototype of a single platform that will measure ad campaigns running across TV, video and online display this summer, as part of a global initiative kicked off by the World Federation of Advertisers. Google, Facebook, Amazon, Snap and TikTok have signed up to be involved and committed to letting an independent platform measure some of their campaigns. So far, so uncontroversial.

“What it’s setting out to do is create a situation where marketers [and] agencies can see how their campaigns perform across media,” Richard Halton, director at Project Origin, explains. “It’s that simple. So, if you spend £1m, you can see the incremental value you get from each different media and, critically, you can deduplicate the reach that you’re getting on the different platforms and broadcast outlets.” 

ISBA is keen for the involvement of the digital platforms to be seen as a coup. After all, the likes of Facebook and Google have long been resistant – hostile even – to the external moderation of ad campaigns running on their sites. Advertisers and agencies have grumbled about it in the past but it has not stopped them giving the duopoly about two-thirds of digital adspend in the UK, according to eMarketer. In comparison, they demand independent joint industry committee (JIC) research from traditional media. 

“The walled gardens are often criticised, aren’t they?” Peter Duffy, president of ISBA and chief executive of Moneysupermarket, says. “It does seem that they are much more happy about not marking their own homework. And that is great. Why wouldn’t they be? All these media channels have a role to play in the marketing mix and broadly work better together. And so, to find a way to actually measure that coherently, it’s just in everyone’s interest.” 

But not everyone thinks the digital platforms have given enough. The TV broadcasters believe the small panel does not compare to a full-scale JIC and are uneasy about Google being involved in building the independent platform. Google, meanwhile, is of the view that it makes sense for part of its investment to be in employees’ time, given its engineering strength. ISBA insists it will be an open-sourced, “truly cross-industry” enterprise.

The UK TV broadcasters remain unconvinced about signing up – and committing significant investments – despite meeting ISBA members and the Origin team last month. Indeed, sources suggest the meeting took place only after media agency executives urged the TV broadcasters to speak directly to ISBA members to ensure their point of view was represented. However, an ISBA spokeswoman says: “We’ve been in constant dialogue with the broadcasters for well over a year, they have been active contributors to the work to date and they are in the process of determining how they would like to engage.”

ITV, Channel 4 and Sky all declined to comment for this piece. 

It is understood that TV sales executives are concerned about plans to equate a two-second view of half a digital ad with the independently measured, full viewing of a 30-second TV ad. Privately, digital commercial leaders argue a personalised ad on a device someone holds close is more powerful than a TV spot during which someone might leave the room. Indeed, while the TV industry is fiercely protective of Barb, professionals in pure-play digital businesses powered by big data see it as old fashioned. 

Marketers’ appetite for the project is clear. Those to have signed up include major advertisers such as Procter & Gamble, Unilever, BT, Moneysupermarket (pictured above), PepsiCo, Sainsbury’s Argos, Camelot, Barclays and Tesco. 

Omnicom, Publicis Groupe and WPP have also signed up. Sources suggest the involvement of their clients was a major contributing factor in some media agencies taking part. ISBA says media agencies are “actively engaged”.

ISBA will use Barb data to include TV ads in the summer test, regardless of whether the broadcasters are fully paid up members of the project. But Halton has not given up on bringing them in, arguing the TV broadcasters are likely to see a net benefit from Origin. Most cross-media studies have found that brands are “over-buying” digital media, because there is no way of knowing you are buying the same person twice, he says. 

“This isn’t a project that will lead to a further acceleration of the trend away from broadcast media,” Halton insists. “If anything, it should swing the pendulum back towards TV, because it’s being compared on a proper basis against the digital platforms.” 

Duffy is also hopeful TV broadcasters will be won over: “TV is not a legacy medium, so, it is frustrating when we’re not allowed to move on from processes that were designed for a world that was.” He adds: “People who perceive their best interests are served by the status quo will always find concerns. The challenge is to… find a way to do this better, tomorrow.” 

If anyone can find an answer to the problem of cross-media measurement, it should be the advertisers, who are paying the wages of everyone in the chain. But whether it will be as useful as they think when they get there remains to be seen.