Leave ‘cost per’ KPIs behind

Leave ‘cost per’ KPIs behind
Opinion: Strategy Leaders

At best campaign KPIs can be effective, but at worst they are useless and misleading. How should you choose what is right for your campaign?


Having targets to work towards and pre-defined Key Performance Indicators (KPI) helps you stay on track with your campaign so it does what it is meant to do.

It allows you to check how close you are to your target and step in and optimise if something is not working in your campaign’s favour.

So far, so good. The tricky bit comes when you have to define your KPIs for your campaign. In media, especially online, there are so many KPIs to choose from. A lot of them sound promising, efficient and fairly easy to optimise towards.

However, the majority of these KPIs are useless or, at worst, misleading when it comes to effectiveness of campaigns.

Keeping attention in mind with digital standard KPIs

Each digital platform has developed their own KPIs that suit themselves best. For example, think about Facebook. A video view is counted when a video has been watched for at least three seconds. Three seconds!

The effectiveness of campaigns is determined by driving attention, so the message you are trying to get across gets noticed and — subconsciously or not — memory structures are built. Each media channel and format needs to allow for sufficient exposure to get a chance to be noticed.

Going back to the three seconds for a view — relying on optimising towards these views is pretty much useless. Not only do you need to get your brand across but also the message that helps builds memory structures within these three seconds.

Another example is the IAB standard definition of an ad being in view. For desktop standard ads, for example, an ad is defined as being in view when the creative asset is 50% in view for at least one second. For a video asset the same percentage in view applies, but this needs to be the case for at least two seconds.

With common sense alone it is totally bonkers to take this as a standard for your campaign and accept this as a KPI to work with and towards.

Combine that with aiming to get a low cost per view or cost per thousand (CPM) and there is not much effectiveness left.

You are working towards a target then that serves a short-term cost saving purposed but in fact it will be a waste of media spend.

What is important is that you challenge these pre-set KPIs and rather than take what is offered, try to set KPIs that work for you and your campaign’s objective. Try to optimise towards the longest view possible that makes sense for the channel.

In the case of Facebook ads, it is a fleeting consumption with users scrolling down. A target to get a 30-second view is not very realistic. Stay realistic but critical. And if it turns out the platform cannot do what you actually need it to do, then it might be worth considering to abandon the platform from your media plans.

Lowering costs per million or cost per views (CPV) does not give you any indication whether your campaign is performing in terms of effectiveness and building your brand in the long-term.

Consumption of each channel, the chance of exposure of your message and how your ad is consumed and potentially seen on each of your campaign’s relevant platforms is important.

This does not just apply to digital media

Digital media is a whole world on its own when it comes to arbitrary KPIs. However, it is also worth looking at offline media KPIs.

TV, for example, what the medium is good at and has its main role in, is to build up maximum reach, fast. The target here needs to be driving maximum reach within your given means amongst your target audience.

However, I often see it that a lot of campaigns have set Cost per Gross Rating Points (CpGRP).

Say you commit your — very often high budgets — to certain TV channels and set targets to focus on optimising for a low CpGRP.

But, it dismissed the most crucial task of TV. Building up maximum reach within your means, fast.

If you just focus on the costs you lose sight of building up maximum reach and might be in TV formats that are not really relevant to your target audience but bring down the overall CpGRP.

The same can be applied to any other offline channel. Do not fall into a trap of focusing on shiny CPM targets.

Look at what is behind these CPMs and CpGRPs. Do they allow you to build up maximum reach in a relevant environment that allows the chance to get attention and build awareness of your brand?

Nina Franck is an independent comms and media planner

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