Accountability, Consolidation Major Concerns for Advertisers

Even as more big brand marketers move their ad budgets into interactive marketing, accountability remains a thorn in the side of the industry. That’s the message coming out of the Digital Hollywood Building Blocks 2006 conference in San Jose this week.

Panels of experts discussing the issue agree: the interactive advertising industry has to come up with viable methods to track results of new campaigns, whether they’re branded, viral, or part of a podcast.

“The concept of accountability in podcasting and rich media, I can’t wait for it to happen,” said Ira Becker, SVP of 1UP Network, a division of Ziff Davis’ Game Group. “We don’t have much detail in the space advertisers really want.”

Online advertising, which in many ways is more measurable than other media, still suffers from inconsistencies in the way clicks or impressions are counted, both on the technical and procedural levels. Counting is even more difficult when it comes to things like podcasts and viral marketing, which lack the measurement methods put in place for other online ads.

Just last week, a group of high-profile advertisers demanded that online publishers begin providing audited impression counts by the middle of next year.

“We may come up with what we think is a highly effective campaign, and get lots of buzz in the mainstream media, but it’s still not measurable,” said Will Griffen, CEO of DoD, an interactive production company.

Without stringent accountability, advertisers will lose the trust of consumers, and risk losing major accounts. That lack of accountability creates a void that publishers and ad networks simply have to fill, according to Michael Jones, co-founder and CEO of instant messaging software provider Userplane, which was just acquired by AOL. “Brands want viral marketing, but we can’t track it,” he said.

There’s no set answer to providing that kind of accountability, said Jeff Doiron, president and co-founder of Fuel Industries, an Ontario, Canada-based interactive shop best known for advergames and branded content. “Everything is so new. Try it. If it works, we’ll keep going. Look at it as CPM. What are we really getting?”

As clients demand more and more accountability, they also want ad agencies to be a one-stop destination for creating and placing interactive media. That way clients can see what finished ads look like sooner, even as deadlines grow tighter and tighter, said DoD’s Griffen. The production company CEO said he tells advertisers he can help leverage their content for on-demand ads to other mediums, by spinning off the content for other uses.

“All of this,” he said, “used to be the job of a creative agency.”

But Griffen says now new media players and advertisers are saying, “Show me what the ad is going to look like.” And the bigger advertising agencies that can’t produce that ad in-house right now are looking to acquire production companies they can roll into their organization. They’re buying up production companies for different niches, like advergaming and mobile, just to make sure they have their bases covered.

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