Prior to the explosion of smartphone usage, makeup application was probably second only to eating in terms of causing auto accidents. A few years back, I was driving my daughters to school when I got rear-ended by a nice lady putting on her makeup while approaching a red light. My daughters were fine, but I suffered from some whiplash, with quite a bit of pain in my neck and between my shoulder blades. A friend referred me to a chiropractor, and despite some skepticism I went in for a visit. I bought in to a treatment program and it helped. In the process, I learned about subluxations, posture and other things. I genuinely liked the chiropractor and his passion for what he does. The relationship worked out well for all involved. I got the relief that I needed; the practitioner got paid for quite a few office visits and services by makeup lady’s auto insurance company; the insurance company limited their loses to a predetermined maximum. Was it all the adjustments and unusual exercises that cured my ills, or was it simply time and massage? Once I had full movement of my neck I was happily indifferent to the answer.
There is no shortage of skeptics when it comes to chiropractic. This annotated article highlights many points of contention, several related to the measurement of what is actually measurable. One comment of note from the article rang a bell and raised some questions: “Material things can be measured, making it possible to set up and test hypotheses about them using the scientific method. Vitalistic concepts (such as “life force or Innate Intelligence”) are neither measurable or testable.” How much of what is being measured in digital signage relates to that which is material and therefore measurable, and how much represents our version of chiropractic’s vitalistic concepts, and are in fact less or un-measurable? Are traditional audience metric studies the DOOH equivalent of a chiropractic adjustment? Does the patient (network) care if they get the result they want? Are we endorsing vitalistic concepts simply because the insurance company (agencies) will accept them?
Consider this: audience measurement and recall studies are for the most part the domain of ad-supported networks. They are conducted for the primary purpose of legitimizing the basis for ad rates in terms that agencies and brands are comfortable with from their long experience in traditional media. Once accepted in the marketplace, those ad rates serve as a proxy for the effectiveness of a network in reaching a targeted audience. It is similar to the impact of Robert Parker rating a wine. At the highest level, there are two types of ad-supported networks: those in which products and services advertised are generally available in the same venue as the digital message, and those in which they are not. In venues where advertised products and services are available, why should we care about traffic, gaze, dwell and recall when we can measure sales? If there is a demonstrable sales lift, then the impact of the advertisement and its value can be measured and a value can be associated with a campaign. There need not be an argument over how many people recalled an ad if their behavior can be documented at the point of sale. In turn, non-endemic advertisers can assess the value of a network based upon its performance for endemic products. As we move inexorably toward customer engagement thru multi-channel integration, even non-endemic advertisers will have new tools with which to measure the effectiveness of a network, a venue and a piece of content.
It is the second type of network that suffers from the subluxation caused by little or no empirical sales data. As examples, consider some of the most influential network members of the DPAA, which include some of the largest and most successful networks in the business. For the most part, we are looking at elevators, workout facilities, medical offices, bars and coffee shops. While they are valuable, highly targeted vehicles for brand building, there are not a lot of endemic products in the elevator of an office building or in a gym. Medical offices do drive prescriptions and other services that can be measured if the practitioner agrees to share that kind of data. So there is little wonder that the membership roster includes Arbitron and Nielsen, as most member networks need conventional measures to support their ad rates. Arbitron and Nielsen have added to the advancement of audience metrics in digital signage and do fine work. Both also count on the prevailing traditional media belief system (impressions and recall) with regard to defining the value of a network to drive their DOOH business. The system seems to work for those that avail themselves of it, so like me and my spinal adjustments, there is little reason to question whether it provides optimum value.
But isn’t it time that we all got our brains around measures that reflect the advantages of DOOH? Impressions and recall are great if you are building brand, which is pretty much all you can do on TV. But DOOH is not TV, and we need to measure behavior and the value of targeted messages. We have some ability to do that today where endemic items are advertised in a retail environment. We can also impute some behavior from prescription uptake or ancillary service demand in a medical environment. The breakthrough may finally come when we can fully integrate mobile applications, digital signage and venue applications such as POS. As we move toward that day, we need to do so with networks, agencies, brands and media measurement firms working as partners to define what should be measured: the metrics of behavior, the metrics of results. And we ought to do that before plain old TV gets there and forces their world view on us once again.