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Are gross rating points really the answer for digital?

Are gross rating points really the answer for digital? Ted Rooke

I recently attended a digital marketing seminar put on by one of the world's largest digital advertising organizations. I learned some pretty amazing material, especially relating to how this group plans to solve the multi-platform challenges marketers face today when seeking to reach consumers via traditional means, as well as through digital and mobile solutions. One topic in particular was a definite head scratcher. The idea that we could (or even should) measure the digital landscape via the traditional broadcast metric -- the gross rating point (GRP).

Those of us with gray in our beards probably began our careers in the traditional media landscape in some form or fashion, and are probably familiar with the notion of buying GRPs. However, many young digital marketers may never have been exposed to the metric. GRPs are a measure of the depth of penetration a message reaches against its intended audience, whereby one GRP equals 1 percent of the total audience. GRPs effectively multiply the reach of a message by the frequency of exposures to get a total number of GRPs. If your message reaches 50 percent of the audience three times, you have a combined total of 150 GRPs.

The argument for using GRPs is that it is the accepted norm by which many CMOs evaluate the value of media purchased. It's "what they know" and "how they speak." By speaking in these terms, the CMO knows and understands the digital channel will unlock the purse strings within large brand advertisers -- and we'll begin to finally see the ad dollars shift from traditional media to the digital space en masse.

I would argue that shifting to a GRP model is a mere cop-out and does not accurately reflect the real value of digital marketing in reaching and connecting with today's consumer. Moving toward GRPs would be a step backward, not forward for the digital industry. This solution does nothing new to prove the value of the channel; it merely re-labels performance metrics. In this age of data-driven marketing solutions, the answer to growing budget share does not lie in applying a more simplified measure of performance. Rather, the answer lies in developing new methodologies designed to showcase the true impact digital has on influencing consumer behavior. We need new methods to create scale in delivery of those methods that do change consumer behavior.

Apart from being intellectually lazy, the GRP model would also create more challenges to cross-channel measurement, and that's because not all GRPs are created equal. Just because two channels deliver the same number of GRPs does not make them the same.  A radio ad may reach the same number of people, but was it truly as effective as a TV ad? A TV spot during a prime-time episode of "Modern Family" is not as valuable as a TV spot with the same rating during the 4 p.m. "early fringe" timeslot.  There are many factors media buyers evaluate when developing a media plan in order to generate an effective mix of value and performance -- and total GRPs is the end game, not the primary solution.

How do we value digital GRPs? How would we determine the value of a standard ad unit versus a rich media ad unit? What about video ads or, better yet, what about video plays on such players as YouTube, Vimeo, or Hulu? Are endemic site GRPs more valuable than those bought through an exchange, or are the exchange-bought units more valuable because they reach a more targeted cookie? Then there's the challenge of evaluating the value of a digital GRP against the GRPs of other channels. Is a banner GRP equal in value to a TV, or even radio GRP? Maybe -- maybe not.

We need to look before we leap and truly evaluate if GRPs are an effective method by which to measure and compare digital against traditional channels. In the end, it could hurt more than it helps if we're not careful with how it gets implemented.

Ted Rooke is VP if media services at Response Mine Interactive.

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"Red pen on finance report" image via Shutterstock. 

Ted Rooke is vice president of media services for Response Mine Interactive (RMI) and is charged with the expansion of the firm’s media expertise across the digital services division. Prior to RMI, Terence executed marketing initiatives...

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to leave comments.

Commenter: Greg Buell

2012, July 23

While your points in this article are very valid, the larger issue that remains is the lack of an agreed upon metric to effectively measure ROI for CMO's. The shift backwards to GRP's, a simplistic view, points to the Digital industry, as a whole, need to remove the fear from the marketers. Speaking in a GRP language is one that is universally understood. But GRP's should be used in conjunction with an engagement measurement model to fully understand the value of a digital campaign. A model like this is a long way off when one side of the digital table measures volume of conversations and the other side measures impressions reached.