Like a couple wedded for decades who donít necessarily still love each other, staying in the marriage out of habit (or until the kids leave), the media and service bureaus who measure their audiences continue to carp at one another.
Tom Ryder, chairman and chief executive officer of Reader's Digest Association and the newly elected chairman of Magazine Publishers of America, is upset with the Audit Bureau of Circulations. "We are being asked to provide more and more information, and adhere to standards that cost us more and more money, and we're getting the feeling we are being asked that so we can be asked to charge less for the advertising we sell," Ryder complained to one reporter.
Meanwhile, the broadcast networks are complaining because Nielsen, a unit of VNU, a Netherlands media company, has confirmed that men age 18 to 34, a demographic group coveted by advertisers, are watching between 8 percent and 12 percent less primetime TV than they did last year.
Just like the embattled married couple, the feuding has been going on for years."When ratings are up, it's the programs. When they're down, it's Nielsen," Jack Loftus, a Nielsen spokesman, told The Wall Street Journal.
To further exhaust the squabbling-couple analogy, the warring factions are throwing only glancing blows, and this is for two reasons. One, they are interdependent, so the public assaults over time hurt both. The other reason is that neither side wants to address the real underlying issue: advertising ROI.
Their discomfort could only increase by looking at the internet.
After a booming start, the medium was, like Obleo, banished to the Pointless Forest for over-promising on the never-practical-to-begin-with idea of one-to-one marketing.
But the internet has since emerged, armed with new behavioral targeting technology that can convincingly prove that online ads are actually seen, really prompt audiences to act, and can produce actual sales for advertisers. While this may sound kind of basic to successful advertising, no other medium (with the possible exception of lowly regarded direct mail) can show this kind of accountability.
Audience guarantees in print and broadcast are projections, guesstimates if you will, of how many people will see your commercial or print ad. They are often wrong, resulting in make-goods, free ads provided by the network or the publisher to make up for audience shortfalls.
Moreover, unless the ads have some sort of call to action like an 800 number, coupon or a reader response card, neither magazine publishers nor broadcasters can prove anybody saw your ad. Sure, huge bucks are spent on studies to determine the likelihood of viewers and readers seeing your ad, but they too are only guesstimates, and they still canít prove the ad prompted anyone to get up and go out and buy your product.
Imagine youíre the publisher of a monthly magazine. Twice yearly you report your subscription and newsstand sales for the preceding six months. By the time your unaudited circulation statements are printed and distributed, your advertisers are looking at data that might be nine months old. Itíll be another year or more before those numbers are audited, printed and distributed. Your reps are knocking on media buyersí doors trying to get insertion orders for campaigns that wonít appear until eight weeks from now, using data that is 18 months old.
By contrast, the internet can give advertisers an exact moment-by-moment audience body count, can show how many people might have seen your ad, how many people actually played the ad or clicked on it, how many of those took action as a result, how many phone calls the retailer got and how many product units moved off the shelves as a result.
The missing ingredient in internet advertising was publisher data on who comprised their audiences, but that is being quickly resolved by widespread user registration so that web publishers now know who is on their sites broken out by age, sex, location and often more granular information such as income and kids in the home.
Unlike any other medium, the internet can now cross-reference demographic data with behavioral data, which gives further clues into the profiles of the users. Visit the recipe pages a lot? Fair chance you are a woman who likes to cook. Look up your online portfolio three times a day? Good bet you are an active investor. Booked a high-end hotel room online? Youíre probably a business traveler.
True that magazine publishers and broadcasters periodically survey their audiences to get this same kind of information, but they hit only a small sample and once again, guesstimate the real numbers.
Online the numbers are actual and in real time. There is no gap between promise and delivery.
The real reason traditional media are groaning about their service bureaus is that when they do uncover downward trends, it comes well after the promises were made that sold the advertising. Advertisers, having bought on those promises, are then prompted to ask if they are getting a fair return on their investments. With TV and magazines, they only really find out when it's too late.
October 31, 2003© 2003 Media Life - George Simpson is a longtime New York PR man and a frequent contributor to Media Life.
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