Get Familiar With Reach and Frequency

You’ve got a product, you’ve got a campaign objective. You explain these to a traditional media planner, and he chooses a number — seemingly out of the air:

Media Planner: Well, you should go with 80 GRPs a week.

You: Why did you pick 80?

Media Planner: I know that’s about what you’re going to need.

How does he know? Experience. That’s what we need in the interactive advertising industry. It isn’t coming easily. I have to admit I “borrowed” that little anecdote from George Wishart, president and chief executive officer of Interactive Market Systems (IMS), whom I spoke with earlier this week. As you may know, IMS is a division of VNU, along with ACNielsen, Nielsen//NetRatings, and Nielsen Media Research. IMS’s specialty is reach and frequency tools.

The occasion of our talk was a deal between online ad technology giant DoubleClick and IMS, which called for linking software products made by the firms. The upshot is DoubleClick has essentially given its seal of approval to the Internet reach and frequency tool developed by IMS and Nielsen//NetRatings, WebRF, by making it easy to exchange information between that product and DoubleClick’s MediaVisor campaign management software.

It’s an agreement that’s part of an industry trend toward speaking the language of traditional media, but talk isn’t enough. We need numbers, we need case studies, and we need experience. There’s been a lot of complaining about how interactive doesn’t get its fair share of ad dollars. A Nielsen Monitor-Plus survey released earlier this week found that though media revenues overall rose 2.3 percent in the first half of 2002 (compared to the same period last year), online ad revenues were down 8 percent.

The explanation? “When it comes time to make cuts, you go with what you know,” said Marc Ryan, Nielsen//NetRatings director of analysis. “The continuing downward trend doesn’t mean the medium is less effective or more expensive.” It’s not about effectiveness; it’s about familiarity. How do you become familiar? With time. There’s no quick fix.

Tools and integration deals such as the DoubleClick-IMS pact are good first steps. So are other reach and frequency measurement products, such as those from Avenue A and comScore (which ended up with Jupiter Media Metrix’s tool when the company sold its assets). Kudos to the NYTimes.com and Forbes.com for selling media based on reach and frequency. These tools need to be utilized and advertisers need to test publishers’ packages so we can build an industry knowledge base.

Jeffrey Graham, vice president of client development at Dynamic Logic and fellow ClickZ columnist, believes the industry’s future rests on a three-legged stool, composed of branding (Dynamic Logic’s specialty), direct response, and reach and frequency. “The DoubleClick-IMS alliance is putting down that third leg of the stool, and I think that’s good for the industry,” he said. Work is being done in the branding arena, too. Dynamic Logic’s vast database of campaigns (read: experience) is helping.

Of course, it would help if the industry could agree how to measure reach and frequency. “There’s a good deal of controversy. It’s not an open and shut case,” Gabe Samuels, senior vice president of the Advertising Research Foundation, told me. His group is working on the problems. “It’s extremely loaded with extremely technical stuff. It’s not a simple issue at all.”

Even industry giant DoubleClick doesn’t presume to dictate its viewpoint to the industry, despite its apparent advocacy of WebRF, the IMS-Nielsen//NetRatings product.

“We felt like the partnership met all of our criteria,” said Doug Knopper, vice president and general manager of advertiser solutions at DoubleClick. “It has to be an industry solution involving more than one party. We couldn’t dictate a solution. It has to be ultimately compatible with the traditional media metrics, and it has to use some combination of server- and panel-based data.”

DoubleClick’s plunging in. It’s not waiting for us to figure out what an impression is. That’s what’s needed where reach and frequency are concerned: a willingness to dive in and try new things. But keep track. Learn what works and what doesn’t. Use findings to drive the next generation of reach and frequency models and tools.

“On the Internet you don’t have that 20 years of experience to know that for this brand, and for this situation, 80 [GRPs] will do it,” said IMS’s Wishart. “You need to allow people to build a knowledge bank of the Internet: how it works, what its strengths are, how to use it in an efficient and effective manner.”

That takes time. Hopefully not 20 years, but a while. Meanwhile, dive right in and start building that knowledge base.

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