Attribution May Be the Worst Invention

A data science colleague and marketing science professor challenged my brain this week with a provocative statement: Attribution may have been the worst invention in marketing science.

Quick background: For many years digital media marketers have benefitted from pieces of code that follow consumers from ad exposure to conversion.  And measurement platforms have been set up to attribute certain exposures to conversions – to weight each publisher’s contribution to that conversion.

But there are several problems with attribution. And they’re getting worse.

For starters, most attribution models have results that credit every conversion event with paid media. In reality, a substantial portion of conversions in any given year are caused by many variables, or a combination of variables, including previous years’ marketing efforts – paid, earned and owned. Or weather or interest rates or distribution or competitive share of voice. The trick is measuring the incremental conversions from this year’s efforts

Secondly, walled gardens; e.g. Meta and Google, are notorious for hogging all the credit. If you’re a digital marketer, for sure you have experienced this – the sum of merit events that Google attributes + the sum of merit events that Meta attributes equates to more merit events than you actually experienced.

Nevertheless – the industry marches forth with “attribution.”

This week Apple quietly announced a new Ad Attribution Kit. What does this kit actually do?

“Apple plans to introduce long-promised support for reengagement campaigns, which has been on the developer wish lists for awhile,” writes AdExchanger. Apparently the last Apple attribution methodology was a bit of a bust – “an overly complicated tool that does less to preserve privacy than it does to undermine ad effectiveness in the name of privacy,” says Eric Seufert at Dataseat.

Apple is trying to find a way to attribute digital media in a cookieless environment. We get it. But it’s not quite right – mostly because Apple is its own walled garden.

Enter here shameless plug: FutureSight’s digital attribution measures both incrementality and without dependence on cookies.

With that said – death to attribution – long live attribution (in its truest, incremental, sense.)