Media measurement in Canada: Expectations and guiding principles

Mar 04, 2022
Media Thought Leadership

Media measurement: It’s a component of every marketer's role. Unpacked, it’s loaded with nuances in the Canadian market. 

In this paper, we discuss the role that media measurement plays, what we should expect out of it in our market and conclude with five guiding principles for media measurement in Canada. The intent is to help local marketers socialize and defend Canadian measurement in global and local business frameworks.

The multifaceted role of media measurement

Media measurement has two roles in the marketing ecosystem, measurement for currency and measurement for insights. In any marketing discussion, it’s critical to understand the difference and consider the implications each has on strategy and business decisions. 

Measurement for currency refers to having line of sight to the impressions or rating points delivered out of a media campaign. Currency is measured by multiple sources in Canada depending on the media channel and publisher. Measurement for insights is where marketing professionals evaluate the role that media plays in driving conversion on the purchase funnel, from upper funnel awareness to mid-funnel consideration and lower-funnel sales. These insights are used to build the overall strategy of a marketing plan and optimize tactical executions.

Many marketing terms related to measurement have different meanings, depending on the vernacular of the organization or the individual's role. Even the term efficiency is multifaceted. When considering measurement for currency, efficiency often refers to optimizing cost per point (CPP) targets as part of budget allocation. In an insights conversation, efficiency is paired with return on investment (ROI), measured via marketing mix models (MMM) or multi-touch attribution (MTA) models. ROI also requires clarification: Are stakeholders seeking a framework to understand short-term wins, long-term returns or a balance of both?

Both currency and insights play an important role in marketing, however the right balance of focus depends on the industry, budget, stakeholders and strategic objectives.

On the client side, there can be greater focus on measurement for currency, where stakeholders often lean into agencies to provide actionable insights. Agencies are on the hook to provide insights into who the media is connecting with, and how it’s connecting with them. Regardless of focus, Canadian marketers need to build alignment across stakeholders to clarify these definitions before meaningful conversations can take place and direction can be established.

What we should expect from media measurement in Canada

To start, our expectations from media measurement programs need to factor in our own effort and discipline, along with a dose of realism. While we expect that the measurement industry in Canada will continue to evolve, our market continues to face internal and external challenges related to consumer privacy, data accuracy, data transparency, measurement fraud, walled gardens and financial pressures that limit the absolute number of participating measurement institutions.

What’s in our control as marketers is to instill discipline and consistency in our organizations through standard measurement language and practices. These include alignment to key performance indicators (KPIs), standard lookback windows, implemented responsibility frameworks and continuous education programs. We can expect more from measurement when these are set in place and aligned across stakeholders before the media goes live. Why? Because they build trust in the outputs.

In Canada, media measurement requires an understanding that not all Canadians are alike. We can expect more out of our measurement programs when we approach them knowing that regionally, culturally and ethnically, Canadians behave differently. Currencies and insights should be demanded at a regional and audience level. If the system marketing is measured by does not match the strategic targeting audience, an organization risks drawing conclusions from misinformation as a result of aggregate data bias. We’ve all heard cases of poor television performance where an English television creative is picked up from south of the border, dubbed over in French and aired in the Montreal market. It shouldn’t be a surprise that this scenario consistently generates poor ROI.

At a channel level, digital has set the tone and even raised the bar on what to measure and how to measure. Where first-party data is available, a combination of last-click and upper-funnel measurement is optimal. However, this utopia is often restricted by walled gardens, where marketers cannot access the data needed for an MTA measurement design. Data continues to be limited to the advertisers’ own funded campaigns or restricted to platform silos. While there is still a great deal of focus on last-click measurement, we are starting to see a shift in social media from impressions to engagement, all the way through to two-way social conversation. This is starting to create healthy tension, pushing marketers towards more meaningful benchmarks that correlate to KPIs.

For traditional media such as television, radio, print and out-of-home billboard, we can continue to expect reliable currency in our market. This expands outside the media buyers’ budget, where data is available for category and competitive analysis through numerous measurement partners.

Cross-channel measurement continues to be the topic keeping everyone up at night. It remains a challenge to tie back to individual consumer exposure. Tried and tested solutions like MMM and A/B testing will continue to be the source for insights in Canada. MMM is recognized as important for any brand to truly understand the business ROI of all channels, and to provide a comprehensive view of how online and offline channels perform individually and together.

With its diverse audiences and consumer groups, we expect to see Canada continue to be an excellent test market for international and global brands. Many of the challenges we face are not unique and insights provided from our region are often a fraction of the cost compared to US tests.

As mentioned earlier, marketers should expect to see better alignment to lookback windows as the industry continues to evolve. Lookback windows are the period of time in the market once a campaign goes live before reporting metrics are shared. This period differs by channel, industry and campaign objective. From a currency perspective, lookbacks are seen to range from seven to 28 to 60 days. For meaningful insights, lookbacks need to consider consumer retention rates (media half life), purchase cycles and brand penetration. For example, the window for an automotive manufacturer awareness campaign will vary significantly from a quick-serve restaurant (QSR) conversion campaign.

Furthermore, on reporting periods, we expect to see condensed timelines for MMM along with an increased cadence of ROI reporting and a greater leaning on experiments as more solutions move to agile. Artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning will continue to provide outputs with greater speed and accuracy. Outside of agency, we expect marketers to continue building their own skills in data science to keep up with these trends to have the ability to extract insights from larger and larger data sets.

Finally, in the space of comprehensive strategic discussions, we will start to see the rise of more measurement translators. These are key advisors within an organization or agency partner network that play the critical role of keeping everyone onboard, ensuring all parties are using the same marketing vernacular, and connecting vast datasets of currency with meaningful insight. These roles distill the necessary actions required to meet KPIs, and ensure everyone at the table understands those jobs that need to be done. These translators will reduce gaps in communication related to the labels we are using to discuss currency and measurement insights. They will provide education and transparency and create a safe space for learning.

Guiding principles for media measurement

To conclude, here are the five guiding principles that every Canadian marketer should be aware of for conversations around media measurement:

  1. Canadians are not all the same. Canadians are not a homogenous audience. By this first principle, national measurement programs are a thing of the past. Currencies and insights should be demanded at a regional and audience level regardless of channel, message or objective. At minimum, marketers need to call attention to the need to measure French versus English language marketing, but ideally expand the focus to capture the full array of Canadian diversity.
  2. The privacy lens is different in Canada compared to other countries. Depending on the channel, it’s essential to socialize to global and international stakeholders’ restrictions on measurement currency and the impact that has on insights. An MTA approach available in the US may not be possible in Canada. The availability of competitive digital currency is limited for most marketers.
  3. Canadian marketing measurement requires its own benchmarks. Across industry, our landscape is very different from our neighbours south of the border, or even across the pond. Our media fragmentation in itself is different. In the consumer goods space, the impact of retail consolidation drives differences in advertising and promotional budget allocation as well as in ROI expectations by vehicle. Layer on the difference in diversity of our audiences across provinces, and expectations should be set locally, and performance scored to Canadian norms.
  4. Canada is a great market for marketing tests. Across client, agency and publisher perspectives, the CMA Media Council unanimously agrees Canada is a great market to run a variety of marketing measurement tests. The diversity in our population enables audience samples to fabricate directional insights that can be leveraged by international stakeholders at affordable costs.
  5. Stakeholder education is key. Especially for marketing newcomers, optimal media measurement in Canada requires an understanding of the market and alignment to the language, terms and definitions used. Ensure the right translators are at the table to keep everyone onboard and ensure that once objectives are set, the organization stays the course.


Hilary Borndahl, Founder & CEO, Miix Analytics Inc.
Caroline Gianias, President, Radio Connects




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