Your browser is out-of-date!

Update your browser to view this website correctly. Update my browser now


Media Efficiency Versus Effectiveness

Impressions are meaningless if nobody actually notices them or takes action

When approached about a media project, I start by jumping to the end: “How are we going to measure success?” One would think that as measurement has become more sophisticated, accurate and granular, the reply would simple and direct. Wrong! 

If anything, expected positive outcomes are rarely fully considered before an approach is selected. Once they’ve committed to it, advertising agencies, clients and even stations tend to focus on media efficiencies. Yes, there’s a lot to unpack here!


Ever since ratings were conceived, cost per point (or per thousand) has been touted as the holy grail. Defining success as spending the least to deliver the largest possible audience is perhaps the most misleading way to prove to advertisers that the person placing the campaign is a brilliant champion, looking after the client’s best interests.

The appeal to everyone involved in this oversimplification is that it can be devised with little effort, described as the best use of investment and delivered as a sure means of success.

First off, it is natural to figure that media efficiencies improved with the arrival of digital media in the 1990s. 

In my view, it actually got worse, because the media industry expanded the use of the term “impression” and adopted it as a key metric. 

Advertising had used “impressions” prior to digital, but it was mostly a guess. With websites, the definition was expanded to measure every time a banner ad loaded on page. If there were five banner ads that loaded, that became five impressions. Holy moley — the ad industry could generate thousands, even millions of impressions!! Man, that’s gotta sound great to any client.

The obvious difficulty is that impressions are meaningless if nobody actually notices them or takes action. Even when a user clicks, they don’t spend more than a second or two looking at whatever they’re now viewing because it doesn’t match their expectations. 

In terms of broadcasting, I hope you will agree that not every listener hears every single advertisement. I know this can be painful to admit, but we must look in the mirror. 

[Promo Power: Set Expectations With Advertisers]

I am not advocating that we never use media efficiencies; but we must understand that this one-trick pony does not measure the most crucial component of advertising, which is effectiveness! If one of your salespeople devises a schedule solely based on efficiency and the client’s cash register doesn’t ka-ching, would you say that the campaign was a success?

Advertising — like content creation — is an art, not a science. We measure it because clients expect us to do so and it’s encouraging to have apparent evidence in front of us. However, we must always remember that advertising’s center should be about creativity, relevance and innovation. Advertising that’s written and produced with entertainment, facts and special offers has a much better chance of motivating purchase decisions. 

Haters of my rant against media efficiency dynamics may site the successful utilization of big data in driving results. While big data is beginning to produce results, it is not about media efficiencies, and I’ve yet to encounter anyone in broadcasting manipulating huge databases, so we’ll save that topic for another day.  


So how do we measure success? 

This starts by having an open discussion with the client to agree on expectations. For example, a client may express that they expect their sales will go up by a certain percentage during and directly after the campaign airs. It’s then up to you to find out how or why they believe this to be an achievable result so you can expand their understanding. If you’re dealing with a client’s agency and they pick a media efficiency goal, you likely have no choice but to comply. It would still be worth trying to dig deeper to understand what the true expected outcome is so you might be able to adjust the creative or scheduling. You might also remind them that nobody ever wins awards based on media efficiency.

Mark Lapidus is a multiplatform media, content and marketing executive, and longtime Radio World contributor. Email [email protected].