Finding the Competitive Data You Need

You’re budgeting and planning for an investment in Internet marketing. Naturally, you want to understand what your competitors are spending, and what they are doing with the money they spend.

But theres a problem. Where do you get this information? How can you find out what ads your competitors are running online and what they’re spending for them? And how reliable is the information you receive?

As with many aspects of online research, there isnt an established standard for competitive ad spending and creative placement information (yet). But there are a number of companies that offer this data now or plan to offer it in the near future.

How the data is gathered

Companies that offer this type of information gather it in basically the same way. They employ bots, which are computer programs that search and classify information. These bots scour web sites for ads and store them in a database.

The advertisements gathered are then sorted by advertiser and industry, and the number of estimated impressions of each ad rotation, estimated from a sample, is multiplied by the rate card CPM of the media site on which the ad is positioned. The result is a figure that should reflect (at least in a relative sense) the advertisers spending online.

This method isnt perfect. First of all, the sample of pages that the bots analyze doesnt necessarily reflect the total number of impressions that an advertiser has bought. Under-deliveries and make-goods of impressions further complicate the story.

Second, bots collect only banners and buttons. Sponsorships, content deals, and product placements, which often account for a significant share of online advertising spending, arent measured. That means that ad spending information can be pretty far off the mark.


Heres a breakdown of current and future providers of this information:


Up until recently, Interwatch was the only game in town. Interwatch was created when Jupiter Communications sold its AdSpend product to the media research company CMR. CMR used its information classification systems to crunch the data being generated by the Jupiter software. Interwatch gives you information about what companies spend on Internet advertising, and what sites they spend their budget on.

The biggest problem with Interwatch is that its data is old, currently six months behind. Because the online landscape changes so quickly, thats practically useless. The problem seems to be that the folks at CMR havent figured out how to crunch the data fast enough. My contact at Interwatch says that Interwatch will have only a six-week lag by March/April, but Ill believe it when I see it.


AdRelevance offers a really impressive array of options to analyze and package the online ad spending data. The data provided by AdRelevance is only two weeks behind – this alone makes it a clear choice over Interwatch.

But AdRelevance also provides excellent information that Interwatch doesnt. The most exciting feature is the way it lets you see what advertisements your competitors are running, and see where they are positioned on media sites. This helps you analyze their marketing strategies.

AdRelevance packages its data really well. You can generate customized reports and different types of charts quickly and easily. My colleague Lon Taylor enthuses that AdRelevance is “a sick tool.” I agree. The merger with Media Metrix, which has nearly established itself as a standard of accurate audience reporting, suggests that AdRelevance will only get better.


Neilsen/Netratings competes with Media Metrix in the area of audience measurement. The company also provides advertising creative and placement data, but no ad spending data.

Neilsen/Netratings says that it will report on ad spending by the second quarter of this year. Until then, unless you choose the company over Media Metrix for audience measurement too, the competitive creative data alone is not worth the sticker price.

Leading Web Advertisers

Leading Web Advertisers made a big splash this summer when it was reviewed in The New York Times by Stuart Elliot. Since then, however, the company has seemed to have trouble gathering momentum, especially since Media Metrix passed it over and acquired AdRelevance this fall.

Like Nielsen/Netratings, Leading Web Advertisers offers competitive creative and placement. The product is easy to use, and the comprehensiveness of the data is promising. However, until they can provide competitive ad spending (which they claim is imminent), AdRelevance will be continue to be the better alternative.

Related reading