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Deep Dive 25 May 2021 - 7 min read

Single origin: Unilever global media chief predicts 'seismic' impact from advertisers' global push for cross-media measurement, with Australia 'following fast'

By Paul McIntyre & Brendan Coyne
multiscreens

Joining the dots across media is the grail. Do advertisers and industry have the will and wherewithal to deliver? Pic: iStock

Global advertisers are finally putting their hands in their media measurement pockets in a bid to cut out “10 per cent plus” of wasted reach and frequency spend globally. They're backing a single source pilot for cross-media measurement and Australia has pledged to “fast follow” the UK-US lead on what is dubbed Project Origin in the UK. The upshot will be “seismic” according to Unilever’s VP, Global Media, Sarah Mansfield but insists it's not "a race to the bottom". It will cause “a lot of angst in some quarters,” acknowledges AANA CEO John Broome. Change is coming and media owners, agencies and measurement providers need to prepare, fast. Mansfield and Broome are joined by WFA Director of Global Media Services Matt Green and ISBA’s Project Origin Director, Richard Holtan who outline the shape of audience measurement to come.

What you need to know: 

  • Global advertisers, for the first time, are backing and co-funding ambitious cross-media measurement pilots in the US and UK to address audience reach and frequency waste – upwards of 10 per cent. 
  • The UK pilot is using algorithmic "fusion" to bring existing but disparate audience currencies in legacy media and digital together.
  • The pilots are starting with TV and video – the big platforms including Google, Facebook and Snap are all in. Broadcasters have been more hesitant but are warming.
  • A key driver for advertisers is that existing measurement systems haven't kept up with changes in consumer habits, especially in cross media management, says Unilever’s global media boss Sarah Mansfield.
  • “There's been little convergence in the way media exposure is measured and it provides you with little opportunity, therefore, to understand true de-duplicated reach of a message and the impact of that in terms of the efficiencies and effectiveness of your advertising," Mansfield says.
  • Equally, it results in a “super poor consumer experience,” says Mansfield, where people "just get bombarded by the same ads all the time… We need the ability to be able to effectively measure and control ad frequency across platforms to deliver a better consumer experience and drive out inefficiencies and wasteful planning in our media communication plans.”
  • Australia is aiming to be a fast follower of the UK pilot with the Australian Association of National Advertisers (AANA) starting to engage industry.
  • Mi3's podcast goes deeper with the global panel – listen here or hit play on the cross-media podcast to your left 

 

Reach and frequency is about to get a makeover. Some of the globe's biggest brands, backed by the World Federation of Advertisers (WFA), are putting their hands in their pockets in a bid to cut out “10 per cent plus” of wasted media spend globally; de-duplicating reach and frequency across linear TV and digital video is the first stop.

A cross-media coalition of the willing want to see a better return on their investment and are backing a pilot to create a single source for cross-media measurement to ultimately become the global standard. The upshot of Project Origin, with Australia committed to be a “fast follower” to the UK and US, will be “seismic” according to Unilever’s VP, Global Media, Sarah Mansfield.

Mansfield admonishes Mi3 for asking which media owners and platforms are going to be most challenged. She says it’s much bigger than that, with transparency gains and a shield against incoming regulation two parallel wins. UK regulators and government bodies, for example, like what they see as advertisers drive the tech giants and legacy media together via a single measurement system to shakeout what a new competitive level playing field looks like.   

But the initial aim is to reduce overlap in reach and frequency and reduce wastage in TV and video spend, before applying the new metric to broader display, radio, out-of-home and beyond. 

Angst management

Project Origin was spawned two years ago by advertisers at the WFA’s Lisbon summit, although the big FMCG companies had long been banging the drum for a more transparent marketplace and a connected view of how their money is being spent and whom it reaches across disparate platforms.

Since then, the WFA and the UK’s Incorporated Society of British Advertisers (ISBA) have been busy, corralling advertisers, media owners, platforms, measurement companies – essentially all the major players in advertising’s supply chain – to drive forward a cross-media measurement pilot. Ultimately, that pilot is likely to upturn globally how media and platforms sell and what audiences brands buy.

Australia will be a “fast follower” to the UK and US-led approach, according to AANA CEO John Broome. What’s coming will likely “cause a lot of angst in some quarters,” he acknowledges. “But hopefully everyone will come onboard and support it.”

If that does not deliver at least a double digit improvement in terms of the effectiveness of our media plans… then we are probably underestimating [the savings to be made]. It's at least 10 per cent plus.

Sarah Mansfield, VP, Global Media, Unilever

Waste disposal

“Existing measurement solutions just haven’t kept pace with the changes in consumer habits, especially in cross media management,” says Unilever’s Sarah Mansfield.

“There's been little convergence in the way media exposure is measured and it provides you with little opportunity, therefore, to understand true de-duplicated reach of a message and the impact of that in terms of the efficiencies and effectiveness of your advertising.”

Meanwhile, that results in a “super poor consumer experience,” says Mansfield.

“People just get bombarded by the same ads all the time… We need the ability to be able to effectively measure and control ad frequency across platforms to deliver a better consumer experience and drive out inefficiencies and wasteful planning in our media communication plans.”

Mansfield points to a high level of duplication across digital platforms, with little ability to measure and share data between walled platforms. “We need a framework, an infrastructure to be able to do that.”

She thinks a cross-media measurement solution, if it can be universally delivered, will unlock broad benefits for advertisers.

“Firstly, it is about removing wasteful frequency and duplication in the system. Second is more effective planning systems through better optimisation of [media] plans by knowing where you go to deliver incremental reach and plan frequency in a measured way – rather than blindly, as we do at the moment. And the third aspect is about being able to better understand outcomes,” she says.

“And if that does not deliver at least a double digit improvement in terms of the effectiveness of our media plans… then we are probably underestimating [the savings to be made]. It's at least 10 per cent plus,” she added. “And when you're talking about Unilever and the amount of money we spend on media, that is significant.”

Advertisers have ambitious needs. Of course, they want de-duplicated reach and frequency across TV and digital. But they don't want to stop at video.

Matt Green, Director of Global Media Services, WFA

TV and video first, rest to follow

After corralling advertisers, publishers and the broader supply chain, the WFA has created a master changes document dubbed, perhaps somewhat grandly, The Advertiser North Star.

That document “is really important, because it spells out what advertisers want from cross-media measurement – and they have ambitious needs,” says Matt Green, Director of Global Media Services at the WFA.

“Of course, they want de-duplicated reach and frequency across TV and digital. But they don't want to stop at video.” Display will follow, he suggests, with other formats likely down the track.

Panel beaters?

The WFA and partners are looking beyond panels to provide the currency.

“It's our view that panel-only solutions might not be able to capture the complexity that exists in TV alone, let alone TV plus digital. We’ve been thinking that a panel plus census model is probably the best way forward,” says Green.

That thinking has been agreed with industry and codified in a set of principles that sit under the North Star document. Underneath those principles sits a technical proposal outlining that panel and census methodology – which the WFA invited industry to peer review, “a sort of collective tyre kicking exercise”.

How did that go down?

“Well, good and bad,” admits Green. “There were lots of outstanding questions and we realised that we couldn’t answer all of them, because it was quite theoretical at that point in time. It needed more implementation. It needed more examination validation. And so this was the key moment where the baton was handed over to local advertiser associations.

“Which is where ISBA and the ANA began exploring how the technologies could be validated and piloted in the UK and the US.

Traditional media is measured by panels. They're very effective. They're statistically robust. But when you're trying to track a two second view on Snapchat, on a mobile … panels break down at a certain level of granularity.

Richard Holtan, Director of Project Origin, ISBA

Single origin

Richard Halton is leading Project Origin at ISBA. The aim is to bring to market a working prototype within the next three months.

To do that requires the big platforms to play – and open up their data to the new metric system. Which is why ISBA approached them first, and they appear game.

“In the UK, on the pure digital side, we have Google, Facebook, Amazon, Snap, and TikTok around the table,” says Halton.

But traditional media may yet find major upside, he adds. “Now we just need to find a structure in which we can get TV data into the system that they are comfortable with”.

No mean feat. But the one-time BBC exec and former CEO of CTV platform YouView, thinks the cross-media metrics system should ultimately benefit TV. In the meantime, he’s at pains to point out that it will not undermine existing TV metrics.

“Based on the WFA framework for Project Origin, we're going to rely on the existing [TV ratings] data and we're going to fuse that via a virtual ID model using a panel,” says Halton.

“It’s respectful of existing metrics, then it's audited across the top so that everyone has comfort that they are being dealt with in a fair and reasonable way.”

But the big trick is around fusing data sets together. How well Origin can do that will ultimately determine whether the project becomes more than a pilot. Which means embracing a degree of change.

“We're a bit of a fork in the road in terms of measurement,” says Halton. “Traditional media is measured by panels. They're very effective. They're statistically robust. But when you're trying to track a two second view on Snapchat, on a mobile … panels break down at a certain level of granularity. At the other end of the spectrum, all media owners, be it broadcasters, YouTube, etc., are now sitting on this absolute treasure trove of real first party data – [that shows] actually what happened.

“So the challenge for us was, either you keep building ever bigger panels, or you wait for all data to become first party and you fuse all that together,” adds Halton.

“The first is really expensive and inefficient. And the second involves sitting around and waiting for the internet to obliterate all other forms of media.”

“So I think the principle has been universally welcomed. Across the board, everyone recognises this is important for consumers and advertisers. SO then the question becomes how? Which is why we want to build a prototype, get real data and prove to people that we can generate a robust set of results that people can rely on,” says Halton.

“Because advertisers are not going to sign up for a system that they can't rely on any more than the media owner is going to sign up to a system that they don't believe properly reflects the value of their media,” he adds. “That is the equation.”

Seismic shift

Unilever’s Sarah Mansfield is confident that Origin’s algorithmic fusion will deliver investment-grade metrics.

“Many great brains are sitting around this table across all aspects of the advertising industry, from the platforms to the research companies to the agencies… and also the insights and data science people from our company as well trawling all over this,” she says.

“So I am confident, therefore, that we will get to the best solution and it will be robust, safe and privacy compliant.”

While it may take some time for Origin to come to full fruition, Mansfield believes it will radically alter media investment.

“It will be a seismic shift when we make this happen. [It will affect] everything from preplanning in terms of identifying audiences and sizing audiences and opportunities, through to the detailed planning of our media plans, through to in-flight optimisation, because this will be real time data that will be running through the system, through to back-end measurement in terms of being able to attach outcomes to our reach and frequency planning,” says Mansfield.

“It will be a fundamental seismic shift,” she adds. Moreover, while it will start with video, “our intention is to eventually cover all media … So yes, it will be a big change. But I think when it eventually happens, it will be welcomed by the whole industry, because I think it will deliver better, more transparent outcomes for all.”

I don't think we should be assessing this on the basis of who's going to get more money, who's going to get less money. I think it will have far broader benefits for the industry as a whole.

Sarah Mansfield, VP, Global Media, Unilever

Who loses?

ISBA’s Richard Dalton thinks TV companies could end up as winners in a world where audiences are more accurately measured and more directly comparable.  But for now, the old dogs are suspicious of new trickery.

“Anyone who is losing eyeballs is going to be nervous about this being the conduit to more and faster transmission of eyeballs and more importantly, money,” he says.

“When we talk to advertisers about this, the consensus view is that the money has moved quicker than it should towards the digital platforms and that better data would potentially correct that transition.”

“But we know from advertisers we work with that when they try and get under the skin of how to build incremental reach across platforms, one of the things they discover is, there are potential inefficiencies that cross-media [measurement] would allow them to correct,” adds Dalton.

“It’s possible that broadcasters…with proper data… would be the beneficiaries.”

Either way, Dalton thinks a unified approach is the only way to stop massive duplication of effort that results in very little traction.

“There's lots of advertisers and agencies out there doing a brilliant job of trying to put together cross-media analysis,” he says. “Every time they do, it's just a project. We need to make it systematic. We need to make it how the industry runs.”

But Unilever’s Sarah Mansfield urges Mi3 to look beyond winners and losers, implying that the platforms also have much to gain.

“I don't think we should be assessing this on the basis of who's going to get more money, who's going to get less money,” she says.

Instead, Mansfield points to Project Origin’s potential to alleviate pressures around the world as regulators ask increasingly pointy questions around supply chain transparency.

“I think it will have far broader benefits for the industry as a whole, whatever medium you happen to be in, whether that is broadcast TV or digital media or any other media in terms of governments’ approach to advertising,” says Mansfield.

“So I think it needs to be viewed and evaluated more holistically in terms of what the desired outcomes are from this particular project, not about who's going to gain more Aussie dollars at the end of it versus another.”

We’re going to call it ACAM in Australia, which is All Channel Audience Measurement. We want to be a fast follower. We want to continue to watch and learn from the two pilots in the UK and US, but we want to start a conversation in parallel and we’ll partner with the MFA.

John Broome, CEO, AANA

Australia ahoy

Noble intentions aside, who loses is likely to be the first question asked by Australian media owners and agencies.

With Origin’s methodology sitting in a GitHub repository and available to all on an open source basis – and the AANA champing at the bit – we may not have to wait too long to find out.

“We’re going to call it ACAM in Australia, which is All Channel Audience Measurement,” says AANA CEO, John Broome. “We want to be a fast follower. We want to continue to watch and learn from the two pilots in the UK and US, but we want to start a conversation in parallel and we’ll partner with the MFA.”

Broome says the AANA is keen to look for natural synergies.

“For example, to what degree can VOZ [the delayed new TV metric] fit into this? To what degree can MOVE 2.0 [the updated out of home metric] be integrated into this approach?” he asks.

“I think the industry needs to have some really objective conversations around how to effectively deploy some of the money that is being talked about and resources are being talked about.”

The AANA and MFA will likely take a white paper approach, seek feedback from industry, “and then start to organise for success,” says Broome.

But that depends on everybody playing ball, regardless of whether Unilever and other big spenders are telling them to.

Agencies “are going to have to collaborate on a system they didn’t invent,” says ISBA’s Richard Dalton. “That’s a bit of a leap of faith they are going to need to take.”

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