Online branding and offline ROI: A data driven boost for premium?


This post first appeared on the

It’s been quite the couple of weeks for premium content… well, from an insight point of view, that is. With Comscore and Newsworks both releasing studies that prove whether it be in digital or print, there are still deep rewards for brands who’s ads appear in and around quality content environments, the premium ad market has received a much needed shot in the arm.

And it is a shot in the arm that’s needed. We live in an age of mass distraction, where consumers are paying less attention to traditional media channels and media planners are paying more attention to methods of campaign planning that enable more effective ways of reaching audiences at scale irrespective of context (warning: this opinion piece isn’t going to turn in to some sort of anti-programmatic diatribe, but will instead question the prevalence of automated audience trading used as an exclusive means-to-an-end irrespective of campaign goals: The concept of programmatic is often unfairly tarnished with this brush.)

This week Dominic Mills argued in his Mediatel column that the effectiveness industry is having an existential crisis, and it’s hard to disagree. The argument is a nuanced one for print and online however. Where print can often be damned by not being measurable enough (or at least perceived as not being measurable enough – especially for those with shoe string budgets), online is damned by being too measurable. It’s therefore been great to see separate pieces from Comscore and Newsworks address these issues from very different angles.

First off, Comscore’s study “The Halo Effect.”

In an independent study commissioned in in the US, ComScore has proven that advertising on quality content sites (defined as members of the trade body Digital Context Next) delivers a 67 percent uplift in brand metrics vs advertising running on non-premium sires.

As Peter Field and Les Binet are quick to remind us, a focus on short term measures will only yield short term results, and focusing on short terms measures is exactly what pretty much the entire online advertising industry is doing at the moment. A perpetual preoccupation with the click whereby marketers are assessing performance simply in terms of what they can measure, rather than what they should measure has created an ecosystem that is not only having a negative knock-on effect for brands and publishers through increased levels of ad blocking and fraud, but on content too through the proliferation of low quality content which has been created with the primary purpose of generating a click rather than creating genuine utility for a reader (next time you get to the bottom of an article and you are greeted with an invitation to “Read more from the best of the web” ask yourself how closely headlines like “Get rich in just thirty days” really match this description).

It’s therefore encouraging to see a piece of work like Comscore’s that focuses on the branding effect of digital advertising in quality contextual environments get such traction. A focus on binary measures such as clicks yields only short term results and it’s only with premium that the long term effects of brand advertising can be more effectively realised.

Second up: Newswork’s study “Newsbrand Effectiveness: The Evidence.”

Meanwhile, in a watershed study, Newsworks have mined five years’ worth of econometric data to reveal that advertising in news print yields a ROI multiplier of three times its value. Again, this study points to real long term rewards for brands engaging with premium content environments. Offline media is undoubtedly harder to measure than online media (although arguably both are as hard as each other to measure correctly), but it’s great to see that Newsworks haven’t shirked the task and that by mining the IPA’s effectiveness data bank have done so with the objectivity so often lacking from research that comes directly from industry bodies.

The study also points to the fact that print advertising for brands in the finance and services categories offers a significant multiplier effect to TV and radio. And this is what I like about this study: It doesn’t look to pitch news brands in a “My ROI is bigger than yours” battle with other media, but rather seeks to place news brands in the context of other media on the plan, arguing for a return to 2013 spend levels in print, but not asking for more.

Print is pretty much the only media that we ask young millennial agency planners to plan with little understanding of what it actually takes to be a consumer that media. It’s certainly less of a challenge than that faced by TV , radio or outdoor for example and yet with the one of the few silver linings to the Brexit cloud manifesting itself as a boost to national newspaper circulations in June, it is clear that news print is still a medium that offers tremendous value to consumers and brands alike.

To sum up…

Quality context isn’t dead. Far from it: in a world where programmatic has become a byword for automated audience trading that lacks the subtlety to sift quality content from the rest of the pile; and in a world where news print can still offer the impactful and trusted environments that brands crave, context matters more than ever before.

With June’s Global Marketing Index reporting that European marketing budgets are set to tumble post Brexit, every penny of marketing spend needs to count more than ever before. Never has there been greater opportunity (and more evidence) for advertisers to stand out from the crowd by going premium both on and offline.

Big data, smart data, fast data…. creative data?


This post has appeared on, and

“You might be making mistakes on the margin of error, but I believe the speed of which you get data and make decisions is more important than the accuracy of the answer you get.”

So said Jorn Socquet, AB InBev’s VP of US marketing, in an interview with Marketing Week last month in which he endorsed the use of “fast data” analytics in business decision making. It’s a comment that doubtless sent a cold shiver down the spines of research die-hards. Margins of error, statistical significance tests, sampling methodologies: they exist for a reason right? Do we really want to discard years of carefully crafted market research and analysis theory—theory that has been developed explicitly to provide us with an as accurate as possible estimation of the truth—just for the sake of some quick and dirty real-time insight?

Perhaps this comes as no surprise? Much comment has been made of late around how we now live in a post-truth world. Facts just simply don’t seem to matter in political discourse anymore, as evidenced by the result of the Brexit referendum. So why should they matter elsewhere?

Once you consider the fact that according to KPMG’s recently released Global CEO Outlook Survey 86% of global CEOs say they lack time to think strategically about forces of disruption and innovation, but 84% also say that they are concerned about the quality of data they have to base decisions on, you have to ask what it is that they really want: fast inaccurate data, or slow high quality data?

This is a glib response of course, and I do actually think Jorn Socquet makes a good point. As with everything, it’s all about context. If you’re making important strategic decisions about the long-term future of your business or brand, take your time with the analysis and stay robust. But if you’re simply trying to inspire some creative thinking, go fast. And that’s the crucial point here: data doesn’t just have to point to one single truth, it can simply perform a function in inspiring creative thinking and ideas. In other words, it could be used as one of many means to a creative end, rather than the end point itself.

This is just what we’ve been doing at the Guardian recently: harnessing the power of our first-party data to inspire creative content ideas in our advertiser clients. By placing a DMP-generated pixel tag on client digital properties, we can now create an advertiser-centric view of our data rather than a Guardian-centric view. In other words, we can tell our clients about their audience’s quality content consumption habits to find out what makes them tick. For one educational establishment about to launch a forensic science degree, for example, we were able to see that their audience was really engaged with crosswords and “Scandinavian Noir” content (very “Guardian”, I hear you say!). What better way to raise awareness of their new degree than through an online interactive crime scene perhaps—sating the desire to solve both puzzles and crimes simultaneously? We’re not suggesting that they stake the future of their business on this one piece of insight, but this kind of data can be provided fast, and it can unearth potentially exciting creative ideas for brands.

I read of a data sceptic once questioning what piece of data drove the decision to use a drumming gorilla to advertise a chocolate brand, but I don’t think that this is as farfetched as it sounds. Data can be a lens through which we make creative decisions: not the be all and end all, but an interesting reference point nonetheless. I see no reason why data can’t inspire such creative thinking. And of course as Cannes Lions are always quick to remind us, creativity matters: it drives real business results.

The final point I’d make is that perhaps fast insight and robust insight aren’t going to be as mutually exclusive as they sound in the future. I read with interest last week the news from Savitz Consulting that through the identification of inliers, research sample sizes can now be reduced without forfeiting robustness: reducing research costs by up to 33%. Music to the ears of many a research budget holder no doubt.

At the end of the day you just need to be clear on your objectives before you set out. If you’re a die-hard market researcher or data analyst, don’t get too caught up in the detail if the aim is just to inspire some creative thinking. But on the flip side, if you’re a senior business decisions maker or strategist, don’t put undue pressure on your analytics people to deliver fast data that might compromise credibility when you’re staking important strategic decisions on the outcome.

Get fast with your data, but not loose!