Understanding CTV Attribution

By Yuval Fisher

Over the years, advertisers have had to rely on a combination of faith and indirect measurement to infer that their advertising on broadcast and CTV works. However, as CTV advertising has gained momentum, conversations around attribution and measurement have become front of mind to better understand how it all works and which ads drive real business outcomes.

The emergence of CTV gives marketers an option to avoid guesswork and use attribution to measure the efficacy of advertising campaigns. With roughly $1 in $3 spent on TV advertising projected to go to CTV in 2025, according to Insider Intelligence, it's clear that CTV spending will continue to play a greater role within the multi-screen advertising mix, and understanding how those dollars contribute to return on investment is critical.

To realize CTV's full potential as a performance channel, attribution will play a key role. Let's look at the considerations, approaches, and aspects of CTV attribution that matter most.

Understanding How attribution Works

Let's say you're an advertiser running a web-based promotional campaign to sell coffee beans. You run banner ads on various websites. Some people then click on those banner ads and get to your website, where they can buy your coffee beans.

On the web, it's easy to attribute the sale of coffee beans to the click on a banner ad; the click is a measurable action that can be traced to the actual sale. In a perfect world, you – as the advertiser – would like to pay only for the placement of banners that led to a purchase. That's performance marketing: The advertiser pays just for actions that lead to business results, and the platform managing the campaign is incentivized to show banners only to people likely to click.

With a web-based promotional campaign, you know how much money you made selling your coffee beans, and you know how much you spent to run the banner ads, meaning you can then calculate your Return on Ad Spend (ROAS). The goal, of course, is to make more money selling coffee beans than on promoting them.

Attribution like this allows advertisers to measure, rather than guess or estimate, the success of such campaigns.

Considerations for CTV Attribution

Unlike the web, on CTV there's no "click" directly linking a buyer's engagement with an ad to a subsequent purchase. Still, as an advertiser you want to know if your ad is effective and converting to actual purchases.

In the past, brand awareness campaigns have been advertisers' main focus when it comes to CTV due to a lack of tools to effectively measure CTV campaign performance. Performance marketing attempts to close this loop by finding ways to attribute CTV ads more effectively to sales of a certain product, like coffee beans.

Depending on your CTV advertising partner or agency, you'll often hear the methodology for understanding CTV attribution described in vague terms like "proprietary," "model," or "patented." But, by taking a look at the basics, advertisers can begin to demystify CTV attribution and better understand how to approach it.

Approaches to CTV Attribution

The most widely used approach to achieve CTV attribution successfully is to match the device used by the viewer of the ad and the device used by a purchaser (for online purchases). Numerous methods are available to match the internet-connected TVs, computers, and mobile devices that each of us use.

Going back to our example above, this means it's possible to know who saw an ad for coffee beans, look at who bought the coffee beans within a specific period of time, and attribute the sale of the coffee beans.

Other approaches to CTV attribution, while in their early days, are gaining momentum. QR codes, for example, are becoming more commonplace in CTV ads, because they provide a means to an attributable "click". Insider Intelligence projects that the number of U.S. smartphone users scanning a QR code will increase from 83.4 million in 2022 to 99.5 million in 2025, according to Insider Intelligence.

Still, the concept of QR codes on TV screens isn't without its setbacks. It takes time to bring out a phone and point it at the screen before an ad is over. And, who knows what percentage of viewers are ready to take action in this manner.

While QR codes are technically convenient for attributing ads to sales, they aren't yet the ideal solution for consumers. In fact, the reality is that QR codes get poor uptake, at least currently. A recent brand awareness campaign for a sports energy drink on Wurl's platform led to a QR click-through rate of about half the likelihood of being hit by lightning in one's lifetime.

Advertisers often wonder how long between an ad view and a sale is allowed for an attribution to be considered. The answer is: it varies. The window can be as short as one hour or much longer. In the case of one hour, it's often presumed that the buyer was already aware of the brand, given that people tend to interact with or buy things more when they are familiar with the brand beforehand. On the other hand, longer attribution periods are more challenging to attribute properly.

For advertisers looking to leverage CTV as a true performance marketing channel, understanding the basics of how attribution on CTV works is key. With the right tools, calculating exact spend and return on revenue as well as attributing sales to specific actions is made simple and effective. This helps advertisers be more strategic and cost-effective with their campaigns. As the market matures, we can look forward to improved processes to engage users, develop direct consumer-brand relationships, and measure user interactions with CTV ads.

The views and opinions expressed are solely those of the contributor and do not necessarily reflect the official position of the ANA or imply endorsement from the ANA.

Yuval Fisher is CTO at Wurl.