Scott McDonald Reveals What to Expect at the Next ARF AUDIENCExSCIENCE Conference

By Media Insights Archives
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ARF President and CEO Scott McDonald is optimistic about cross-platform measurement.  "I see solid signs of progress," he says, with "better use of projectable samples and panels for calibration, better integration of statistical adjustments to correct for known biases in behavioral data streams (that previously were venerated simply because they were large) and better automated content recognition."  He is also fairly bullish about attribution measurement, though he admits that there still needs to be better inputs and a more expansive ability to calculate across all media and marketing.

I sat down with him to find out what we might expect to see and hear at the next annual ARF AUDIENCExSCIENCE event scheduled for April 15-16, 2019.

Progress in Cross Platform Measurement

The overall theme of the conference will be the vectors of progress in cross-platform audience measurement.  According to McDonald, the industry is "making progress in coverage, in integrating audience data from different streams and in automating content recognition."  But, he averred, "We still need to build better consensus on the core metrics to use for reporting and trading."

The obstacles seem to be more political and economic than technical, he noted.  "There is compelling evidence from the U.K. around how it is a costly mistake to under-invest in upper-funnel brand support and over-invest in lower-funnel activation, but it is rarely fatal if recognized and remedied," he revealed.

There have been milestones in these areas since last year's conference.  "The MRC's proposed duration-weighted standard for cross-platform video measurement represents an important milestone in the long-running effort to get consensus on the underlying metric," McDonald said.  "That standard will be hotly debated at this next AUDIENCExSCIENCE, but I consider it a significant step forward to be having that debate now about a very specific proposal."

Progress in Attribution

McDonald sees some signs of progress in integrating digital attribution with market mix modeling approaches, but "there is still a need for better inputs (ad exposure data) and greater transparency about underlying models," he asserted.  He believes that, "when properly executed, attribution efforts premised upon true, randomized control tests have the strongest causal claims."  However, attribution models are still operating under very limited spheres that don't apply across all elements of the media and marketing spectrum, "so they don't have as much practical utility for many marketers," he added.  Plus, they are often siloed, only working within one complete end-to-end platform, resulting in limited scope and of potential conflict of interest, he explained.  "So, when we go beyond these methodologically pure randomized control panel (RCT) exercises, the most meaningful attribution studies are those that reflect a bit of modesty and humility about their own limitations."

Time Table for Measurement?

I asked McDonald how soon did he think it will take for us to get to an industry standard cross platform measurement?  "To some degree, it will always be a work in progress," he admitted.  "So, I don't think that we will ever be at a place where we can just go on auto-pilot."  But, looking forward, he said that "5G will have all kinds of knock-on effects on how we consume media and advertising, and the whole field is so ripe with innovation that the goalpost will constantly be moving."

McDonald believes that there has been a lot of progress so far through the efforts of individual companies and industry organizations.  "To some extent we are on the threshold of a new era if the MRC standard survives the inevitable scrutiny and goes on to win the support of marketers," he said.

In terms of actual metrics, McDonald ranks the following as the most important:

  • Exposure metrics (impressions, reach, frequency)
  • Attention metrics (duration, cognitive measures)
  • Affiliation metrics (often reflected in social media)
  • Market metrics (sales, pricing power, brand equity)

"Looking ahead to the next five years where do you see the media ecosystem in terms of measurement, data, analytics, privacy and attribution?" I asked.

His response was swift.  "Five years is an eternity in this business," he said.  "We will be farther along -- powered more by AI and 5G -- but still with plenty of work to do solving the problems that will be frustrating us in 2023."

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