Doug Garnett’s Blog


New Language: Attribution or Contribution for Advertising Impact?

New Language:  Attribution or Contribution for Advertising Impact?

It’s important to be careful with language around advertising. Far too often what sounds like highly precise language includes incredible leaps of assumption.

Consider the Relevance Leap. Despite incredible hype from digital teams, it turns out that online “relevance” is really based on the idea that a consumer has done something relevant to the advertiser. Relevance is in the eye of the beholder: I am bombarded by a lot of ads that someone decided were relevant to me – but aren’t. Don’t be misled by the term.

Or, consider terms like “engagement” or “viewability”. Ed Papazian recently mentioned both in a MediaPost article comment (article link here), noting the numbers don’t mean what the words imply amid a digital world. Just because the digitician’s called a metric “engagement” doesn’t mean it measures when consumers are engaged.

So what should we make of “Contribution” – a term being bandied about for sorting out media effectiveness. To be honest, I’m hopeful.

Think of this term used in the context: “rather than focus on attribution, we are choosing to look at each type of media for its contribution”.

At least that’s a good start.

We Need to Replace “Attribution”. Attribution has been all the rage for few years. It arose through a combination of a desperate need to justify digital spend, an important need to sort out the best ways to spend in a complicated advertising mix, and was given an extra push with the arrival of big data (and the myth that data could tell us everything about our media impact).

Except, “Attribution” has turned out to be one-dimensional. Generally, it means no more than attributing every consumer purchase to one source of media. And that can never provide good direction for overall media strategy.

A rich media mix influences people in complicated ways. And it’s clear that the process of getting someone interested in a product all the way to closing their purchase is long, and requires more than one media touch point.

After a recent set of panels discussing attribution, I believe attribution is a mistake; because only rarely does it accurately describe the “Last touch” of media immediately before the sale.

Even worse, there’s danger that mistakes in “Attribution” can quite easily end up damaging your ad effectiveness because attribution approaches always give too much weight to last actions.

Shifting to Contribution – What It SHOULD Mean. A couple of months ago my article on the “Plant, Water, Harvest” model for media was published in Response Magazine and re-published on this blog (link here).

This model recognizes that every consumer follows a different path that may eventually lead them to purchase your product. The advertising that sets them off on the journey is as critical as the advertising through which they choose to purchase what you offer.

Attribution’s obsession with harvesting means it can never work well within this reality of consumers. But there’s hope for Contribution – IF we control it’s meaning.

What we want to determine is each medium’s contribution along the consumer journey:

  • One way to consider it would be to suggest a contribution % estimating that medium’s impact on a purchase and estimate those for all the touches of media along the way.
  • Another useful way to use this would be to split up each media’s spending and allocate percentages to planting, to watering, and to harvesting. Digital would be mostly harvest. Television would have a large portion planting and watering.

If we can assume that contribution means this (or a similar reality), then it could be a brilliant solution to the problems caused by attribution.

Will it work? We don’t know. The primary risk for good ideas is when vendors and consultants take hold of the ideas. They create high-priced services promising, in this case, to give definite proof of all media “contributions”. (These services popped up for attribution within minutes of the term being coined – and they haven’t delivered much value.)

Contribution services and consultants will want to tell you they do their work based on science. But take care. Given the incredible complexity of the problem any formulaic service can only rely on leaps of faith and magic – but they won’t tell you that. It is usually far better to pair your team with a good agency that has excellent analysis savvy to arrive at contribution based on reason and instinct – informed by meaningful data.

So stay tuned. In about six months, the pages of AdAge will be filled with articles touting successes with contribution.

Before that happens, there might be hope. Let’s start to use the term “contribution” and hope that advertisers and clients can take control of the term to build healthy long-term campaigns.

Copyright 2016 – Doug Garnett – All Rights Reserved

Categories:   Advertising, consumer marketing, Uncategorized