Could Online Ad World Ditch the Impression?

Is the impression—the longtime currency of online advertising—on its way out?

It could be. Three major advertising/media trade organizations, IAB (Interactive Advertising Bureau), the ANA (Association of National Advertisers) and the 4A’s (American Association of Advertising Agencies), have announced a new initiative aimed at simplifying online ad measurement and metrics. The groups have hired management consulting firm Bain & Company and the strategic advisory firm MediaLink to help with the effort. And everything is on the table, including possibly ditching the impression as a currency.

The new initiative, Making Measurement Make Sense—announced at the IAB’s Annual Meeting in La Quinta, Calif.—won’t necessarily have a lot of teeth. But the three groups are hoping their efforts carry enough influence to enact serious change in the online ad industry, which continues to struggle to pull in its fair share of brand advertising, according to many prominent executives.

What the effort will entail is still unclear. During a press briefing, leaders from each of the three groups spoke in vague but grandiose terms.

According to Sherrill Mane, the IAB’s svp of industry services, the goal of the initiative is “to change everything we do when we transact digital media.” Why? “To make it more brand hospitable.”

The group acknowledged that digital media is still not hospitable enough to brands. Digital buyers are faced with half a dozen sources when planning campaigns, including Nielsen, comScore, Quantcast and Compete. Different sites and ad networks sell using varied definitions of ad impressions. Video is even more muddled and disorganized.

“The supply chain is messy and ineffective,” said Mane.

Yet these industry groups won’t have a lot of authority, other than issuing guidelines or a whitepaper that they hope will guide brands, vendors and ad buyers. But Mane and her counterparts said that this issue has major momentum, particularly the support of the industry’s leaders.
 
“This is about getting agencies, publishers [on board] with what is best for the industry,” said Bob Liodice, president and CEO of the ANA, who predicted the group would produce some sort of results in six to eight months. “This is a standard setting exercise.”

Added 4A’s evp Mike Donahue: ”This is not about being reflective. This is about being actionable.”