The good old days of six-figure ad tracking studies are long gone. A remnant of recurring revenue for market research firms may have existed on the fringes but has since been replaced with more affordable, and at times more accurate, ad tracking solutions such as Lucid’s Proof and Connect by Cint. These new players are hell-bent on disrupting the status quo, leaving legacy models behind to catch up. So, the question is, do market research firms fit into the ad tracking ecosystem?

Before we answer that question, let’s define what ad tracking is.

What is Ad Tracking?

According to Wikipedia:

Ad tracking, also known as post-testing or ad effectiveness tracking, is in-market research that monitors a brand’s performance including brand and advertising awareness, product trial and usage, and attitudes about the brand versus their competition.

That’s a solid definition, but I’d also add that ad tracking is typically longitudinal and on-going. This explains why ad trackers’ shift from traditional market research firms to digital sampling firms triggered a collective gasp from the industry as recurring revenues were upended.

Now, let’s get back to the question of if market research firms fit into the new ad tracking space, which is best explained by unpacking the key components of advertising trackers:

  • Brand awareness – are the company’s ads increasing awareness of a brand among consumers?
  • Advertising awareness – are consumers aware of the company’s ad for a specific brand?
  • Attitudes towards brands – does the advertising affect the consumers’ attitudes towards a brand?

The above components, while not exhaustive, create a picture of an advertising campaign’s effectiveness.

Benefits of Early Ad Exposure and Real-Time Data

An important factor in advertising tracking research is the exposure of the ad to a respondent, typically before the advertising campaign launches and then again after the advertising campaign has been in market for a certain amount of time. This exposure has been easily replaced by affiliate marketers and digital sampling companies through targeted early exposure to a pre-determined set of respondents tracked via a pixel. Pixels are a small snippet of code placed on the digital advertisement itself that is typically associated with basic demographic information of the user exposed to the ad that was gathered beforehand or after through a variety of data collection and matching techniques.

The exposure methodology in advertising tracking products offered by affiliate marketers and digital sampling firms are superior to those of traditional market research firms as the respondent is exposed to the advertisement in the advertisement’s “natural” environment. When a respondent is exposed to an ad that is being tested with this methodology, the pixel fires when the advertisement has been viewed and a small survey is served in-line during the respondent’s browsing session. Brand awareness, advertising awareness, and attitudinal behaviors are then gathered with minimal disruption to the browsing session, unlike the traditional survey that requires respondents to check their email, open a survey, answer demographic questions, view the ad, and then finally answer the advertising effectiveness questions.

With superior ad exposure and real-time in browsing survey questions, it is no wonder the tracker as we know it has gone from the bread and butter of market research firms to a distant memory.

Passive Tracking reveals the “why” behind ad effectiveness.

So where does the traditional market research firm fit into the new age of ad tracking? The answer lies in the “why.” Passive tracking, in-line exposure, even the follow-up questions, help identify the “what” of advertising effectiveness, but there is a depth of knowledge behind the why. Your advertising effectiveness scores are great! But why? Awareness is low! OK…why?

Traditional market research firms are uniquely positioned to provide context through passive tracking. Companies and brands have all but let go of their trackers, but in doing so, have lost the ability to mine the data for clues as to why their campaigns are or are not working. While market research firms may not be able to reinsert themselves into the trackers of today, they can provide a much-needed context for the massive amount of data that brands collect daily.

This goes beyond advertising trackers, however, to almost all of the big data initiatives companies and brands are investing in from a marketing perspective.

So, don’t lament the loss of that tracker. Rejoice in your ability to provide insights that only your market research firm can!