Commercial Ratings Could Spark a Creative Revolution

Assuming We Ever Arrive at a Proper System First

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For those outside of TV ad sales or measurement, watching the stumbling conceptualization and implementation of commercial ratings has been like getting jammed on the freeway due to a pileup on the
other side. The initial titillation and rubbernecking long ago gave way to frustration and boredom, while any sympathy for the entangled parties was replaced by a gnawing sense that they brought this on themselves. And now they're only making things worse for everyone by squabbling over the details of how to clear the wreckage.

Outmoded model
I surely am not alone in refusing to believe a $70 billion business sector, largely controlled by a handful of players who are as much friends as competitors, couldn't by now have arrived at a system that would measure viewing through commercials as well as programs. The resources, know-how, technology and advertiser interest have been available for years, so the parties' protestations about the complexities of implementing an essentially simple system seem, now, like little more than attempts to cling to an outmoded but lucrative model for as long as possible.

Unfortunately, the delays have also bored observers -- on several occasions I've been asked why Ad Age keeps harping on such minutiae -- and obscured the fact that the system the industry will eventually get is a measurement that could breathe life into the stagnating business of TV advertising. It's a business that still accounts for more than 60% of ad outlay and somewhere in the vicinity of 25% of all marketing expenditure, yet contributes to clutter, flirts with irrelevance when it comes to meaningful measures of ROI, and could easily take a serious revenue hit judging by what's happened in markets such as the U.K.

Exact drop off
Proper commercial ratings -- the type that rate each individual spot, even on a second-by-second basis -- have the potential to reinvigorate creativity. Just as the TV buyer can call the seller after he or she receives the overnight ratings to discuss why a program isn't pulling the promised numbers, commercial ratings will give marketers a real insight into whether people actually want to watch their commercials. Marketers and their agencies will be able to see the exact drop off in viewers and compare that across different types of creative.

Sounds like the kind of trial by numbers that creatives wouldn't like? The exact opposite is true among the creatives I've listened to, partly because they'd rather their work was judged on its ability to connect with consumers in the real world than on small samples of people forced to watch the commercials and rate them based on metrics that end up being gamed for the purpose of the tests.

"Real measurement sorts the wheat from the chaff," said JWT's creative chief, Ty Montague. "The real power of creativity gets acknowledged and there's no more hiding behind naming the product five times in the ad because that tests well. ... Every day becomes the Super Bowl. The ads might not be the best in the Super Bowl, but they're better overall because measurement has forced people to focus on the quality. You get better or you die."

'What a waste of money'
DDB chief creative Bob Scarpelli agreed: "I feel the same way about potential ratings that I felt when DVRs were introduced," he said. "They aren't going to eliminate advertising, but maybe they can help eliminate bad advertising. Going on, we know that we have to create communications at least as interesting or entertaining as the programs we're in, but a lot of marketers and agencies just don't [do that]. They do boardroom advertising. Everybody in the boardroom likes it, but the customer couldn't care less. What a waste of money."

David Lubars, top creative at BBDO is excited too, hoping commercial ratings will underscore the fact that "creativity is a must." But he does note that it'd be a shame if creative were dumbed down for ratings. "You'd hate if every ad became the equivalent of 'Two and a Half Men,'" he said.

A worthy word of caution, but as an advertiser I wouldn't mind knowing my creatives can connect with even half that show's audience. That would be a big step in the direction of finding out what marketers are getting for their $70 billion.
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