Financial Times wants publishers to embrace cost-per-hour ad campaigns

By Brendan Spain

Financial Times

New York, New York, United States


In the words of American ad industry pioneer Leo Burnett, “Advertising is the ability to sense, interpret ... to put the very heart throbs of a business into type, paper, and ink.” 

However, in our digital age, type, paper, and ink have been complemented — and in some cases replaced — by the Web. And the task of communicating the “very heart throbs” is stymied by fresh digital challenges, like adblocking, lack of trust and transparency, and the growing difficulty of measuring exposure.

There’s little point in capturing the heart throb of a company and investing in the opportunity to share the beat digitally if the company can’t be certain it reverberates across the right audience.

In this problematic landscape, Financial Times (FT) has discovered that measuring ads by cost per hour (CPH) represents an opportunity — and that cost per mille (CPM) has outlived its usefulness for brand campaigns.

For nearly three decades of commercial Internet history, digital advertising has derived its value from how many times a Web page makes a call to an ad server (creating an impression).

Cost per hour can be used to measure brand impact based on time spent with an ad. Advertisers then essentially can be charged by the hour based on ad performance.
Cost per hour can be used to measure brand impact based on time spent with an ad. Advertisers then essentially can be charged by the hour based on ad performance.

However, the trade in impressions has only ever been a substitute for what companies really wanted to buy: the opportunity to be seen and heard by their target audience.

Low viewability scores, questions about advertising placement, unclear conflicts of interest, and fraud have all signalled the need for a review of how we measure campaign success.

Against this backdrop, the FT embarked upon a pilot programme, offering advertisers an avenue to reach a highly influential global audience with greater brand impact through genuine views and engagement. We traded on exposure time, as opposed to impressions.

To start, we ran trials with 10 clients, including BP, AIG, Microsoft, and IBM, generating measurable business results and catalysing a notable uplift in four key brand metrics: ad recall, brand familiarity, brand favourability, and brand consideration.

These trials have given rise to a new currency. It allows us to offer the Holy Grail of advertising — better and more measurable brand impact — by selling the attention of a brand’s target audience by the hour.

Essentially we’re trading in blocks of time, every second of which is viewable. Clients are only being charged for ads that are actively seen for five seconds or more, with active time indicated by whether a person scrolls, clicks, or uses a mouse.

This threshold is based on research that shows ad recall increases by a staggering 79% when ads were seen for more than five seconds.

The ability to measure engaged time also can provide insights that help inform the creative process. For example, if we know the average exposure time of a particular advertising unit is nine seconds, we can ensure the creative is designed with this in mind.

Most importantly, CPH allows us to shift our focus to delivering quality over quantity, by using data analytics to create higher‐performing placements.

CPH’s 100% viewability exceeds the typical key performance indicators used in our industry. As digital technologies have advanced, our ability to offer a more sophisticated and rewarding methodology has improved.

This time‐based system allows us to measure exposure to advertising messages like never before. Our advertisers are achieving measurable business outcomes, with 10% more exposure time when purchasing CPH compared to CPM.

In our field, which is historically a few paces behind, these changes represent radical progress.

Nielsen ratings for TV, for example, have been on a similar journey. In 1950, Nielsen developed a ratings system for TV based on the same methods used for radio. Technological changes since then, including Internet streaming, rendered the system nearly obsolete. In 2006, however, Nielsen recognised the need to adapt and announced a plan to revamp its methodology to include all types of media.

Moat’s cross-platform advertising analytics offering has had a similar impact on the digital ecosystem, measuring the quantity and quality of attention, as opposed to the rudimentary numbers of page views or unique users.

While CPH breaks new ground in the digital advertising ecosystem, this isn’t simply a vanity project. In the interest of creating a more transparent, effective industry, we’re asking other quality publishers and media buying agencies to transact on time.

We believe this will bring brands closer to their desired outcomes, and whet their appetite for more digital campaigns and removing fraudulent players from the market.

We need to come together to improve standards for brand advertising across the board — starting with charging advertisers on exposure time, as opposed to how many times an ad call has been made to a server.

About Brendan Spain

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