Measurability Will Prevail Despite UKOM Development

Set for launch in January 2010 and and unveiled last week, the UK Online Measurement Company (UKOM’s) Audience Planning System is aiming to enable marketers to more effectively target their online advertising campaigns based on accurate audience metrics for publisher sites. This is a big step for online display advertising as up until now there has been no industry standard, non-biased view on a particular websites audience demographic. It will undoubtedly help digital media planners to more accurately hit target demographics and user groups across the web and whilst in its infancy and still to narrow in its approach (it is based on panel data from just 35,000 web users) it is without doubt a positive development.

It seems clear to me however from the article written in Marketing (21st October) that traditional brand marketers, and digital marketers from traditional marketing agencies, seem to be seeing this as a way of justifying continued spend on large budget, online branding campaigns based around “building awareness”. In my experience what this means is that they can once again propose extremely extravagant and largely expensive digital media plans without needing to worry about return on investment, tracking, optimisation, or any of the other facets of online advertising that make it so different and more appealing than offline activity.

In the past few years most display advertising planners have realised that they can no longer hide from the accountability of online. As tracking technology improves and companies get more attuned with online and what they should expect, brand based marketing has declined and advertisers are looking for accountability from all of their ad spend, and this is how it should be. The worry with some of the comments in the article (some contained here but not the full detail) are that this could mean that once again, media planning agencies are able to get away with controlling large brands online budget in the name of “brand building” and aren’t held accountable for their actions.

Its not that I do not believe online campaigns can build brand awareness, just that this too needs to be measured. Tracking technologies have advanced to the point where effective conversion attribution is possible and all touch points down the online conversion chain can be monitored. Yet too many large brands continue to persist with untracked, or badly tracked, online campaigns in the name of brand building and offline conversion. With or without the new UKOM audience planning, media buyers need to understand that it is conversions and measurability that drive online adaption and growth, not hiding behind the banner of “brand building”.