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GRPs: The Newest Digital Metric

June 15, 2011

By Geoffrey Precourt

As Charles Buchwalter, Nielsen SVP/online campaign ratings, offered in a 'Key Issue Forum' on the opening morning of the two-day session, "As networks wrap up their yearly upfront ad sales, there has been no shortage of pontifications about how well (or not) online advertising fared in this year's negotiations."

He continued, "Media companies are in a race to boost revenue from their online offerings. They know the audiences are there, but are unable to fully monetize their online inventory without the right metrics to prove its value in reaching their clients' specific targets, relative to TV. On the other side of the fence, TV advertisers know their customers are online. But they don't have enough evidence that their online media buys are reaching their desired audience well enough to justify allocating more of their ad dollars to the medium."

Buchwalter's solution: Nielsen Online Campaign Ratings which measure "a new approach to online ad measurement which produces reach, frequency and gross rating points (GRP) statistics, comparable to TV ratings." The new metric discovers an online audience by "combining Nielsen panel data with aggregated, anonymous demographic data from online data providers," Buchwalter said. "Using this unique hybrid approach, Nielsen is able to measure online advertising campaigns of nearly any size, running nearly anywhere on the web."

The news of even a stand-in metric - even one with as much baggage as the GRP - was welcome relief to Natasha Hritzuk, who joined Microsoft Advertising at the end of 2010 as Global Director/insights and analytics from General Mills, where she had been Head of Category and Consumer Insights/UK and Ireland for the last five years.

"The GRP piece was critical at General Mills, where we ran marketing mix models. It helped plan our spend, even though historically digital was not at the table." With GRP as a cross-channel "baseline currency", she said, "the benefit is getting a seat at the table. Digital works synergistically with television, which we can now prove through econometric modeling."

For the Microsoft Advertising group, there is a number of channels in need of common research reference points - among them, mobile, Xbox 360, Microsoft MirrorMedia TV, Bing, and a rich variety of other digital offerings. With some commonly accepted (and understood) starting point, Hritzuk allowed that measurement for digital media had become more accountable. "And even though [people] are switching effectiveness studies on a monthly basis, if we speak the language of television, we begin to enjoy some of the same accountability."

And the goal, she added, was not measurement for the sake of measurement: "At the end of the day, what we care about is sales uplift" - improvements often driven by quick cross-media comparisons that can help marketers demonstrate a return on their investment in digital. "We may have strategic content, but snap decisions always are about sales uplift."

The difference between a major consumer packaged-goods company and a digital behemoth, she said, is that, "at General Mills, we spent 80% of our time on creative - about linking up right emotional benefits with the right product benefits." The marketer could afford to "focus in on the platforms". It's not that Hritzuk's new company ignores creative. Instead, she said, Microsoft Advertising aligns its priorities differently: "It's about optimizing creative across platforms" and recognizing that each screen - each kind of user experience - will change the relationship the consumer has with the brand. "Each screen has different characteristics," she explained, "and different mindsets. We have to find the right creative that taps into the appropriate screen."

The dilemma of digital diversity resonated with Jim Dravillas, Google's Head of Advertising Research, who joined Hritzuk on the ARF 'Preparing for Tomorrow' panel. "For a long time, GRP was standard metric as to who you reach. Its incumbent [on the digital community] to expand beyond GRPs."

Dravillas added, "CMOs understand the relationship of GRPs to sales. But they do not understand the relationship of digital metrics to sales. We need to establish a metric they're used to."

And, although the GRP model may seem to come from another generation of metrics, it provides a starting point for the research end of the research-and-analytics process. "When we look under the hood, it allows us to take a familiar model and expand it to include the possibility of incorporating other data sources," advised Mainak Mazumdar, Nielsen SVP/global measurement science. "We believe this is a good start that we can build. If agencies [and marketers] participate - with the belief that brand measurement is important - then I think it will be successful."

About the author: Geoffrey Precourt is the US Editor of Warc. You can read all his papers and reports from recent marketing events at

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