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Doing the numbers: Is the NetRatings/AdRelevance merger good for media buyers?

Jeez, it’s hard to keep up with the old debate on audience measurement, site measurement, and online competitive ad spending. Most advertisers not only depend on but also crave new information, statistics, and sound methodologies. Without these, how can they sell online media initiatives and produce effective campaigns?

Just when we thought the landscape was still, Nielsen//NetRatings, which measures Web site audiences, announced the acquisition of AdRelevance, which measures online ad spending. The price is a reported $8.5 million.

AdRelevance, based in Seattle, was owned by Jupiter Media Metrix, a company rapidly running out of cash and selling off assets. In February, NetRatings dropped a plan to buy Jupiter Media Metrix, fearing rejection from government regulators. Today, it seems it’s cherry-picking Jupiter’s assets.

“The sale of our AdRelevance division is a logical step as we continue to pursue strategic options that strengthen our overall financial position in the marketplace,” said Robert Becker, CEO of Jupiter Media Metrix. “While it was a difficult decision to sell this division, we are pleased to have kept our pledge to our loyal AdRelevance customers that this strong brand would remain in the market. We will use the proceeds from this sale to further advance our leadership in Internet audience measurement and research. Specifically, these funds will enable us to look confidently to the future and continue to innovate with our Media Metrix and Jupiter analyst research brands.”

What does this mean to advertisers and publishers? No one really knows. As I’ve said before, there seems to be lack of standardization and proportion when it comes to such numbers. Consider this scenario:

A media buyer lands a new piece of business in the retail/apparel industry, and an online media budget is established. The buyer begins the planning process. She typically works with the account group to determine the client’s key competitors. Once a list is devised, she logs onto a tool like AdRelevance to obtain competitive spending information. The tool enables search functionality in 26 site genres, including banking, retail, automotive, and business-to-business (B2B). In the retail category, the buyer can search via product, division, or company. Timeframes can be tracked. Once this information is selected with a click, data pops up. Seems magnificent until you ask yourself: What’s behind the data?

In this example, ad spending is reported by the online measurement system that combines server-side tracking and second-generation intelligent agent technology with panel-based online measurement data (random digit dialing). Scratching below the surface of the numbers is where this gets scary. Only rate card data is used. This, of course, opens a huge can of worms. The numbers change as publishers and advertisers negotiate. The tool allows most house ads to be stripped out. However, there’s still an overabundance of barter and house ads. The tool can track banners (in multiple sizes), skyscrapers, buttons, and interstitials. It does not track text links, sponsorships, and keyword buys.

Only a few “good” tools are available. Agencies are using AdRelevance and Nielsen data combined. At our firm, we equate AdRelevance to CMR, Voice Track in the offline world.

I polled some industry veterans to gauge their reactions to the news the two companies would merge. Most people are weary of mergers and acquisitions. Many agency types are frustrated at the prospect of dealing with different sales reps. They’re worried about downtime and service outages. My pal Jarvis Coffin, CEO of BURST!, said, “I think it’s about survival, not value.”

Another colleague said, “As far as determining share of market based on dollars spent, I’m not sure this will do much.” I couldn’t agree more.

As advertisers, we complain plenty about the numbers. With one less firm supplying them, will we have even more reason for dissatisfaction?

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