Dirty Little Secrets

Despite the well-deserved optimism shared by e-marketing professionals across the country, there are a few “dirty little secrets” in the industry I thought I’d lob into the public sphere. It’s only after these issues are brought to the surface that we can begin to overcome our inertia and get closer to resolution.

Naturally, some of these are more egregious than others. But collectively, they signal a need for our industry to continue to work toward one of our most precious goals: parity (or better) with other communication channels, as viewed by communication architects, media planners, and enlightened clients.

Dirty Secret 1: We’re Not Speaking the Same Language

Although there are many subtexts that could be discussed here, two are the most evident: different buying nomenclature and the lack of standard universe estimates.

These drive me crazy.

The fact the rest of the media world deals in demographic currency, and interactive media (arguably the most targeted media, ever) deal in total audience currency, baffles me. I’ve written about this before, but there’s no sign the industry is moving toward a uniform resolution. While our brethren in traditional media plan and buy based on demographics (W25-54, A18-49, P18-24, etc.), we continue to rely on an overall (Persons 2+) audience delivery and factor in composition data derived from syndicated research.

Example: A buy on ESPN.com is sold at an $8 CPM (define). Planners then use Nielsen or comScore data to determine the composition of their target audience in the ESPN areas purchased and apply the factor accordingly. Therefore, a 50 percent composition of Persons 18-24 translates into a $16 Persons 18-24 CPM.

What happens when the buy is exclusively in the ESPN boxing section and that’s not measured by syndicated data? Good question.

Another issue that highlights the chasm between digital and traditional media is the lack of industry standard universe estimates. Simply put, how big is the universe of online users? When delivering reach, frequency, and rating point estimates to clients we must estimate the penetration of Internet users compared to the U.S. population as a whole. I don’t know about you, but last time I looked, there were no fewer than half a dozen different (some by a factor of 50 percent) audience estimates from the leading research companies. Surely we can all agree on one number and institutionalize it, as they do in broadcast — right?

Dirty Secret 2: The Industry as We Know It Isn’t Scaleable

I know Rome wasn’t built in a day, but look no further than your last integrated campaign to make a stark realization: The degree of customization and time-intensive stewardship compared to relative expenditure is unrivaled in communications. It takes too long and requires too many resources to execute online integrated and customized solutions.

I recently chatted with the publisher of a leading online Web property. Naturally, we mentioned how good business was (for both of us) and what 2005 is shaping up to be. Though we concluded the industry is really beginning to hit its stride, we also acknowledged that, by and large, we still represent less than 10 percent of marketers’ overall budgets. If we did start getting our fair share, we agreed, it would crush our industry.

In addition to the time resources needed to execute an online buy, the relative cost of production compared to the media spend is a significant issue. We run into this problem all the time when we talk with clients about budgeting for digital plans. Although they typically balk when we advise them to set aside 20-25 percent of the media budget for creative and production, truth is these are realistic estimates.

This high cost of production is really the result of two basic issues: continuing inefficiency with the number of different technologies and ad unit sizes per campaign, and continually changing publisher ad specifications. There’s been a lot of emphasis on this area by the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) and other industry organizations, yet we still haven’t gotten to a place where we can find a happy balance between innovation, impact, and standardization. We’ll get there, someday.

Got any dirty little secrets you’d like to share?

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