Advertiser investment in original digital video has nearly doubled over the last three years, and this growth will continue to accelerate for the foreseeable future. What began this decade as a $730 million marketplace is now projected to grow to $26 billion by 2021.

Despite this incredible growth and the robust ecosystem that has developed to foster it, the first image that comes to mind – when evaluating the current state of affairs in digital video – is that of a character portrayed by a comically-yoked Brad Pitt in the 2004 movie “Troy” (I dare you not to Google it).

The character is Achilles, a true icon of Greek mythology. As legend goes, a young Achilles’ mother dunked him in the River Styx, whose waters were said toconfer the invulnerability of the gods. However, she gripped Achilles so tightly by the foot that the water of invincibility never touched his heel.  Achilles grew strong and powerful beyond belief, but one vulnerability ultimately led to his demise. Hence the reason we still know his name 2,750+ years later.

You may be asking: what does the Iliad and a forgotten Wolfgang Petersen film have to do with the role of brands in digital video? In a purely literal sense, nothing. However, as a lesson in vulnerability, there are significant parallels to be drawn.

Just as Achilles grew so strong as to shift the balance of world power around him, so has branded content evolved to re-shape the balance of power in digital marketing. More importantly, however, is the realization that as powerful as Achilles grew, his small but lifelong vulnerability eventually led to his unraveling.

In the world of branded video, that lifelong vulnerability can be summed up in one word: measurement.

Effective branded content offers advertisers an opportunity to engage with consumers in a uniquely intimate way, incentivizing brands to build ongoing relationships with audiences who may make a purchase in the future. And therein lies the rub.

For all the benefits of aligning with or integrating into original digital video the industry’s “Achilles heel” remains the lack of a unified measurement standard that effectively ties investment back to product sales. In fact, a 2018 IAB survey found that 34% of brand marketers consider “ROI vs. Other Media” as the single biggest obstacle preventing increased spend in original digital video.

How did we get here?

In a nutshell, the early iterations of digital branded content performance were measured by clicks back to an advertiser URL. As digital publishers embraced the model of distributing content across social platforms (circa 2015), success in branded video was gradually measured by racking up as many views as possible. Now, as content views have become increasingly commoditized, the measurement lens has shifted to engagement: completion rate, shares, comments, etc. The exact definition of engagement differs by publisher, adding more complexity to the equation. Throw in 3rd party research and brand lift studies, and the measurement waters are as murky as ever.

So, where does the industry go from here?

One thing is for certain: the key to solving this measurement puzzle will be the development of a consistent, intuitive framework that makes sense to marketers. In order to achieve that lofty goal, any sustainable solution will need to draw a direct link between content and commerce.

A Promising Solution: Shoppable content–allowing consumers to discover and purchase directly through a content experience. It has great potential to connect the dots between a brand’s investment in content and the return on said investment. While the idea of shoppable content is hardly new, only recently have media companies unveiled scalable and semi-automated capabilities empowering brands to drive product sales within content.

The primary appeal of shoppable content is satisfying the instant purchasing desire that content creates in the hearts and minds of its audience. As content evolves toward instant shoppability, the result is a streamlined and simplified purchase funnel. When consumers are able to make purchases seamlessly and impulsively, brands will ultimately reap the benefits.

In a world structured around attribution models, shoppable content will open the holy grail of measurement to advertisers: a conclusive link between content and net return on ad spend. Media companies are investing in these capabilities, and marketers should be playing close attention.

Which brands should be leaning in? Three words sum up the efficacy of shoppable content as a viable strategy: utility, efficiency and impulsivity. The first two go hand-in-hand, as today’s consumer prioritizes products/services that solve a tangible life problem (utility) and/or give people time back (efficiency). Impulsivity is the key to helping consumers become comfortable making purchases through content.

In a nutshell, products that add utility or efficiency to consumers’ lives and qualify as a potential impulse purchase should be the early movers in shoppable content. Digital marketers dream of capabilities that simultaneously build brands and drive measurable sales. Shoppable content has unmatched potential in turning that dream into reality.

This post originally appeared in MediaPost.

Author:

Jeremy Cohen, VP & Head of Global Content Partnerships, Publicis Media