Wake The Town
Stuck in Motion
Contemplative Reptile
  • International Edition
  • USA Edition
  • UK Edition
  • Australian Edition
  • Canadian Edition
  • Irish Edition
  • German Edition
  • French Edition
  • Singapore Edition
  • Spanish edition
  • Polish edition
  • Indian Edition
  • Middle East edition
  • South African Edition

NBCU’s Kelly Abcarian Is Set on Unlocking the Holy Grail of Marketing


LBB speaks to the EVP of measurement and impact about how she’s teaching the industry to “handle hard better”, ushering in a new era of measurement, and how analytics can bolster creativity

NBCU’s Kelly Abcarian Is Set on Unlocking the Holy Grail of Marketing

When we ask Kelly Abcarian, the EVP of measurement and impact at NBCUniversal, whether her love of numbers is the result of nature or nurture, she laughs before sharing that her twin sister works in analytics - as do two of her younger sisters. Numbers, it could be said, are in her DNA. After a start in accounting, Kelly made the transition to Nielsen where she applied her analytical rigour and passion of numbers to measurement while working with the premium content that she herself loves.

After 16 years, Kelly made the move from Nielsen to NBCUniversal where she’s taking measurement - and its highly complex challenges - into a new era that’s reflective of the all-screen future. Highly motivated by innovation, she is focused on delivering the most value for consumers and advertisers alike, ensuring that relevant ads reach relevant audiences while the quality of the ad environments themselves continue to get better and better.

Currently, Kelly’s focus is on the emotional response consumers have to ad creative and how that data can be leveraged by marketers to build more relevant creative and ultimately drive marketers’ KPIs. It’s a nascent area of the industry and one that Kelly is very excited by, noting that it’s not an area that has been given as much attention in the past as it deserves. Getting this right is for her the key and the “holy grail of marketing.”

Below, LBB speaks to Kelly about her impressive career, revolutionising how the industry approaches measurement, and the latest TV series that grabbed her attention.


LBB> Your career started in accounting, and you’ve said that you have a love of numbers. How does this foundation help in the role you hold today?

Kelly> I really know the value and importance of numbers and accuracy to drive better business decisions. I've also written code to solve complex tax problems. So, you can kind of say I’m built for the job of ‘solving’ advertising. Numbers are important - I think that's what really attracted me to this business, because it's what underpins the monetization of all this premium content. I was at Nielsen for 16 years where I fought passionately for better measurement, innovation, and change. That's why I was really excited to get the opportunity to move across to NBCU, where I can directly help advertisers measure the value of the amazing storytelling that we bring.

LBB> What attracted you to working at Nielsen - how did you make the career transition from accounting?

Kelly> It was a somewhat easy transition. Joining Nielsen was a more interesting way for me to work with numbers since the role was tied to things that I'm also passionate about. I love to watch television and premium content; I'm a big consumer of media myself. Getting to understand the numbers behind the business of what I spend - and many consumers spend more than four and a half hours a day on - was extremely exciting to get the opportunity to do. When I came over to Nielsen, I started on the CPG retail side of the business, trying to help manufacturers and retailers optimize UPC (universal product code) and SKU (stock keeping unit) sitting on the shelf as well as helping retailers maximize how to get consumers to buy items off the shelf.

That was before e-commerce really disrupted the brick-and-mortar retail business, because Nielsen measured both the buy side of what consumers purchase and the media side of what consumers watch and listen to. After spending five years figuring out how to transform that business, I asked to move across to be able to work on the media and advertising side. That's where I spent the last 11 years of my career.


LBB> What does a typical work day look like for you?

Kelly> When I first started at NBCU, we called for measurement independence and for all the innovators to come forward and to help us solve the measurement challenges. This was beyond just counting. My typical day is really working with those innovators and harnessing those solutions and helping them to connect dots. I spend a lot of time looking at the matrix of innovators and making introductions to encourage them to be more interoperable and collaborative because often connecting those dots unlocks even higher value than them operating alone in a silo.

A lot of my time is also spent trying to look at how we can unlock value across the measurement landscape and leaning into those innovators to harness the best solutions. But it's also a lot about education. We published a framework, an audience measurement book, having conducted the largest to date ‘test and learn' in the industry with 158 brands, giving them access to the platform and almost 1000 hours of training and education on the new currency. Then we launched the Currency Council at the end of last year to help move change forward. Through that platform we continue to do a lot of education on how to understand the new currency and how to unlock the maximum value from it.

LBB> How much of your work is analytical versus creative? Do you think one is more valuable than the other to the way you work?

Kelly> I believe that it's a combination of both. I'm looking at how the quality of the creative - the ad itself - helps drive a marketer's KPI. We're trying to apply a lot of analytical rigour to this area. So, for example, we're doing a lot of work around emotional response to creative, working with innovative companies to help us understand the emotional response a consumer has to a piece of creative, and then trying to correlate that to in-market performance, such as search, to understand what emotional drivers are set to better correlate with search conversions, if that's the KPI the advertiser is trying to impact.

It's a lot of analytical rigour, but you also really must get into the psyche of the creative mindset and really work with the creators who sometimes don't understand the connection to the data or measurement. How can we bring those two teams more closely together? At the end of the day, humans are inherently driven by emotion – and the quality of that creative which fosters the connection between consumers and the brands they buy, those emotional connections have correlations to the response of the consumer that then drives impact for the marketer. Applying analytical rigour back to that creative mindset is key to unlocking the holy grail of marketing.

One is not more valuable than another between creativity and analytics, they truly are interconnected. We should use an analytical foundation to inform creative, but both are important in bringing forward more innovative solutions to better inform decisions in media activation & optimization

LBB> At NBCU, you’ve been focusing on creating a new era of measurement - what do you see this new era as being defined by and how is the progress going?

Kelly> We're doing some interesting work that we're going to be publishing closer to the Cannes Lions festival around what we've learned. It's not one emotional score, it's several emotional specific drivers that potentially have higher correlation factors to a marketer’s KPI like search We started with search, and we have spent the last year studying the correlations, to try to help advise on the creative process.

We are all looking to understand what additional metrics matter in this journey to bringing forward better measurement. We know that content matters, the environment that content runs in matters, the creative matters, and consumer’s emotions matter. At NBCU, we take a human-centred approach to the content we develop and bring to the world, and we know that brands do the same with the messages they relay to their customers. That is why we announced last year at Cannes our journey to evaluate emotion and certifying this as a key measurement category. We made a call to action across emotion and impact to build a scalable model for creative testing that evaluates the emotional resonance of creative and seeks to illustrate the contribution of creatives to driving in-market performance. In other words, what is the correlation between the creative choices and media placements that advertisers make and their ability to generate business outcomes?

Our ambition is to operationalize a system of creative testing and measurement solutions that can scale impact measurement to be accessible to our entire client roster. 

LBB> What are some of the biggest challenges that measurement faces today?

Kelly> I think the biggest challenge is that the industry at large has a 90/10 problem. What I mean by that is that we spend 90% of our investment on measurement on counting, that often doesn't count all our platforms, all of our audiences, and hasn't kept up with changing consumer habits. That leaves us 10% to invest in the metrics that marketers care about the most at the end of the day - outcomes. We like to say at NBCU, marketers don't buy ratings, they buy results. If we're not able to prove how our media inventory helps them drive results, whatever those results are across the entire funnel, then we're going to continue to be challenged by our advertisers. We strongly believe in the quality and power of our content and that the future is anchored in value-based metrics – so our emphasis is on ensuring we have the infrastructure to measure this at scale with collective benefit and learnings for our clients and ourselves. Today, digital players don’t have a high-priced single currency to prove their value. Instead, they can push their investments down the funnel and offer more optionality because they pay less than 10% at the top to measure and count the eyeballs. This This is why we believe in a multi-currency future; we believe that it's critically important that there is innovation, choice and an ability to move our investment from just counting to driving more impact-based measurement for our clients.

We recognized we needed to focus on our data interoperability strategy with brands and agencies to create an ecosystem to enable this level of measurement with privacy-minded controls over consumer data. 

The second thing is education. People are really entrenched in legacy thinking and the inertia behind the status quo is quite challenging. Change is hard. But as an industry, we need to learn to do hard better. I've been focused on how we can better educate the marketplace because things are not going to get easier anytime soon, like fragmentation. New technology is going to continuously land in consumers' hands and consumers are going to continue to embrace it at warp speed. We need to be ready as an industry to be able to keep up with that changing consumer. We need to be willing to break free from legacy thinking and to embrace these new datasets and new business models as we move ahead.

LBB> Consumers are increasingly concerned about privacy. How can advertising walk the line between personalised and over-personal?

Kelly> Consumers don't hate ads; they hate irrelevant disruptions. Measurement must capture this more sophisticated consumer as it’s key to helping make sense of that. If you can't count correctly, how do you know at what frequency you're hitting that consumer? You have no idea. If measurement is disconnected, siloed, and not able to understand how many times you've touched that consumer in a day, a week or a month, then we are more likely to disrupt them with ads that don't resonate.

As we move to new measurement, we can now measure and understand how digital and CTV platforms deliver on the ideal consumer ad experience. We've invested since the beginning in an ad first approach to our streaming environment, including in the ad innovations we can bring to our clients to drive higher value. We perform extensive research on these ad innovations around the effectiveness they have with consumers and the value that that then brings back to the marketer to drive their KPIs.

When we launched Peacock, we launched the platform with ads so our consumer from day one knew what to expect. We launched it with a lighter ad load, we launched it with new ad innovations that are not the type of experience that you have on linear platforms. We've seen a great response and engagement from consumers with it. We're all going to need to continue to be privacy minded with consumers by building an offering through the most relevant ad experiences that resonate because at the end of the day, we all must be mindful of the value equation that consumers expect.

LBB> As the executive vice president, what kind of culture are you fostering within your teams and beyond?

Kelly> I think first and foremost, to handle hard better. Change is here. Don’t wait for change to happen to you. The future favours the brave and bold. What I love about measurement is it is truly a team sport and if we learn how to do hard better – imagine the better way forward for all of us to deliver change together. And to change together, you need to engender transparency and collaboration. I encourage my team to share lessons, learnings, failures, and challenges that we're facing in this transformation with our clients so we can all learn from each other. This is also reflected in the way we work with our clients. In our Currency Council, we’re very transparent around what's working great and what's not working; what's not working as we had thought it would and what we're doing to close the gap or address it. I truly believe that change happens when people have trust in the process behind the change that they're being asked to embrace. I focus my team’s leadership in creating a culture that is not afraid of failure.

There's a Michael Jordan quote that I really love where he talks about how many shots he missed: “I’ve missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. 26 times, I’ve been trusted to take the game-winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.” I truly believe in that mindset.

LBB> Your role is highly complex and made up of many intricate, moving parts. Can you share what drives you and what you find the most interesting about what you do?

Kelly> I think what's most interesting about what I do is I'm at the forefront of harnessing all this data, tech and identity in new ways across all these amazing innovators, doing something that's so important for our industry to get right because as I said consumers watch more than 4.5 hours of premium content every day Counting is important. And getting this right is not optional. We value and greatly respect the role premium content has in shaping our society and we need to have better measurement that values the content. What really motivates and drives me is the fact that I get to work on doing something that matters to consumers, it matters to society, it matters to marketers. Getting to harness and unlock all of this great innovation to move this industry forward not only motivates me, it inspires me.

LBB> Finally, what’s the last thing you watched that really grabbed your attention?

Kelly> It's probably Formula 1: Drive to Survive. Netflix went behind the scenes of Formula 1 and I had no idea that it’s such a team sport. It just resonates with everything that I'm working on - trying to drive fast and, but at the same time trying to bring your clients and partners along. Winning in F1 is all about executing a highly tuned plan. I enjoyed learning that Formula1 is truly a team sport, and understanding the fandom that's behind it and the complexity of the sport is fascinating.

view more - People
Sign up to our newsletters and stay up to date with the best work and breaking ad news from around the world.
Comcast Technology Solutions, Fri, 19 May 2023 11:42:00 GMT