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Ad Age Digital Conference 2012 in San Francisco touted to be the premiere event in marketing, technology and media, “where the biggest brands meet the most innovative startups and the new technologies that are transforming business”. For a premier event in marketing, the conference lacked more of the expected social slant –video and mobile were front and center, but somehow there were just a few tracks on how social is changing the face of marketing. Top brands still focus most of their budgets on online display ads – as Peter Naylor shared in a recent Ad Age article, the online display advertising industry is a $10 billion one. And in this race to win the dwindling attention of the consumer (today, the average person receives 63,000 words of new information every day, most of them via emails and social media), brands, ad agencies, industry standard bodies, and metrics providers are trying to make sense of their digital marketing mixes and how to show the elusive return on the digital marketing investment.

Online Campaign Ratings (OCR): The new GRP

In an effort to adapt our thinking, approaches, and budgets, with Nielsen leading the charge, the industry is looking at TV to give us clues and inspiration as to the ways we can measure the effectiveness of integrated advertising efforts. Chris Heine, in an article for ClickZ earlier this year, offers a great perspective on the efforts. Essentially Nielsen has introduced a new gross rating points (GRP)-like measurement system – dubbed Online Campaign Ratings (OCR). OCRs are coupling de-identified Facebook gender and age data with online add impressions to diagnose targeting effectiveness and help brands and agencies improve the traction of online ads. There is no doubt there are some efficiencies to be had with better data – as Chris points out, based on information from Nielsen’s blog, a trial of the Nielsen’s new rating system showed "in a campaign in which a CPG advertiser intended to reach females 18-34 for a personal care product, 55% of the impressions were served to men.”

OCRs are a meaningful step forward in addressing the challenges of integrated advertising measurement and are aimed at getting brand advertisers to spend more online. For OCRs to be truly meaningful, however, they need to be able to capture the social influence of digital advertising – a recent McKinsey report states that up to 1/3 of consumer spending is subject to influence from social shopping. As the report indicates, this growth indicates the “almost primal appeal of social technologies, which bring speed, scale, and economics of the Internet to social interactions”.  Couple this potential with the efforts of the Advertising Research Foundation to measure the effectiveness of traditional banner ads vs. social ads (as displayed on Facebook), and you may conclude that social is not that important after all. In a post from July this year, Luke Simcoe from Macleans shared the results of a banner effectiveness study, which showed that ads on Facebook underperformed compared to “blank” ad performance.  This is where I would say – not so fast, folks.  In order to measure the effectiveness of a brand’s marketing spending, we need to combine the marketing efforts across more than the various types and channels of advertising; in an era of converged media, where savvy marketers are starting to invest in paid, owned, and earned, social is becoming one of the most promising ways to affect preference and purchase.  As an industry we are not there yet, and we can only get there if we take a step back and look at the full, well, social picture.

A good step in that direction is the recent report from Altimeter on Paid +Owned + Earned = Converged Media, where the research firm foresees that to achieve cross-channel integration in a consistent way there will be considerable changes inside of the marketing org chart, and a clear strategy on getting agencies to collaborate, and intensive system integration of vendors.

Facebook’s view on digital marketing efforts

Another interesting development along the path to finding a more integrated way to measure digital marketing effectiveness in social comes from Brad Smallwood, the Head of Measurement and Insights at Facebook, who presented at the conference. Smallwood mentioned that marketers are continuing to put pressure on Facebook to show the correlations between advertising on the network and sales. To this end, Smallwood referenced not only the work being done by the previously mentioned ARF, but also referenced a new study from Nielsen, that 92% of people trust recommendations from friends on social media, while the same percentage is much smaller for those who come upon ad messages. When consumers see ads on Facebook with a picture and name of a friend as part of them, they are 50% more likely to remember that ad. Further, in recent days Facebook’s Smallwood has been making big noise with a study partnered with Datalogix that claims in 70% of cases, every marketing dollar spent on Facebook led to an additional $3 in sales in stores.

Heineken’s innovation in the digital advertising space

And speaking of big ideas, I hope that the work of one exceptional marketer is on everyone’s radar – the work of Lesya Lysyj, the CMO of Heineken, responsible for developing long-term marketing strategies for the Heineken USA beer portfolio. Lesya and her team at Wieden + Kennedy are behind one of the most innovative beer campaigns of 2012 – the 007 “man of the world” campaigns, coinciding with the latest Bond movie, Skyfall.  Instead of the typical Bond martini, Bond will be opting for a few Heinkens. The interactive ad campaign launched on September 20th, and is running on multiple digital and social channels such as Facebook and YouTube, where views of the TV ad “The Express” have reached 1.8 million already. Alongside, Heineken launched a new game called “Crack the Case,” where an interactive film takes viewers on a train through snowy Siberia, challenging them to complete several tests while dodging Soviet-esque villains. Before embarking on the challenge, fans are prompted to enter their name, gender and a photo (or they can continue with a “secret identity”.) To give you a sense of the amplification potential of this campaign, consider this: a comment on day 2 of the campaign received 86K likes, 2.6K comments, and 9K shares.  I trust that a new integrated measurement approach to marketing ROI needs to account for that kind of social impact. In addition, Lysyj shared additional out-of-the-box marketing concepts that have led to a four-year upsurge in revenue performance with Heineken brands, such as Newcastle with their “No Bullocks” campaigns and of course Dos Equis’ “The Most Interesting Man in the World”.

Did you attend Ad Age Digital 2012? What caught your attention?  Who is your marketing hero? Share with me on this post, or connect with me on Twitter.

Errol