CEO & President Member Newsletters
1Q 2019: New Year Greeting to ARF Members
I hope this finds you well – rested from the holiday and keen to tackle the challenges of the new year.
As you know, there has been lots going on here at the ARF. Stepping back from the countless activities – conferences, council working groups, research projects, on-site member meetings, training/education sessions, Young Pro and Women in Analytics events, and so forth – it’s important to remember the main reason for the existence of the ARF: to further, through research, the scientific practice of advertising and marketing. That is why it was established in 1936 and that is still why it is needed today.
That’s why members want the ARF to be a bit hard-nosed. We are skeptical about claims. We continually seek empirical evidence for findings and claims. The ARF is unique: it doesn’t represent any one segment of the ecosystem. Its loyalty is to the truth, as best as we can discover that truth through real, honest, impartial, transparent research. Its role is to identify and propagate best practices, promote legitimate standards, and when necessary take positions. Here are a few of those positions we articulated in 2018:
The trend toward reliance on passively-collected behavioral data and toward sophisticated (but sometimes opaque) analytic techniques won’t serve marketers if they abandon the more familiar but less trendy “small data” methods that ensure that they hear the voice of consumer.
As the well-publicized scandals related to election manipulation show the downside for democracy of ad tech’s ever-more-narrow targeting, we need to ask if targeting has gone too far to be practical and beneficial to marketers. Do all marketers really need 1-to-1 marketing? Can it really be efficient? And what about the consumer’s interest? Do the long, complex and lawyerly privacy statements and terms of service really serve their consumers?
The research and analytics communities need a new and strong code of ethics – one that takes account more diverse data inputs from passive data collection, biometric data, and location-based data gathered for non-research purposes. The ARF took steps in this direction in 2018 and began drafting a 21st–century research and analytics code of conduct.
Experimental designs need more rigor than we often see are best used in pursuit of (not instead of) causal questions. A/B testing is fine, but it is not a panacea and rarely addresses the complex causal questions required of ROI and attribution studies.
6-second ads on TV may be effective, if presented in combination with longer-format ads. But it is difficult to tell from the early returns because so many advertisers gave the :06’s preferential placements that muddied the waters.
The proposed introduction of a citizenship question to the 2020 Census is likely to cause significant undercount and thereby damage the quality of a core data asset in the US. This will make statistical projections less accurate and undermine the quality of data used in key business decisions.
This is just a sampling of some of the issues we tackled in 2018 – both through our research and through our partnerships with industry groups.
In 2019, our focus will increasingly be determined by direct input from our members. Last spring, we conducted a detailed survey to identify which issues members think need the greatest attention. And then toward the end of the year, we asked members to “vote with their dollars” (on the familiar model of the “401K” accounts) by allocating the part of their member dues that funds our research according to their broad topic priorities.
The tally won’t be final until the end of this month – but so far, the top priorities appear to be attribution and cross-platform audience measurement. This should come as no surprise since these topics are central to all four of the ARF’s core constituencies (marketers, agencies, media and research/analytics vendors). And these remain pain points of significant contention about the best way forward.
As the industry continues to focus on attribution, some are tempted to try to solve for attribution without solving for exposure. We at the ARF think this is wrong. Forgetting about the measurement of marketing exposures would be illogical and doomed to failure.
There are some who argue that – in an era of “walled gardens” – it will never be possible to solve the technical problems of cross-platform ad and marketing exposure measurement, that we must be reconciled to a world with three to seven walled gardens each with its own bespoke metrics. We at the ARF think that such an anarchic world of metrics-babel would be a huge disservice to marketers and ultimately to everyone in the marketing ecosystem.
The obstacles are partly technical, but largely political – and thus are amenable to solution if key stakeholders demand it. That would be MY wish for 2019. What is yours?