Studies Tout Online Audiences

Internet advertising players are pointing to new research that suggests that the audiences of major Web sites can rival those of traditional media.

A study by former FCB media research director Rob Frydlewicz and commissioned by New York-based ad server DoubleClick found that the individual cumulative audiences of major Web sites are comparable to those of television and magazines.

According to the findings, Yahoo Search, MSN Hotmail and MSN Search each consistently post greater net audiences than the most-watched television programs, and are just below popular consumer magazines.

Based on data from Nielsen Media Research, NetRatings and MRI, the study found that the three sites attracted cumulative audiences of 22.8 million, 22.7 million and 22.6 million, respectively. That’s compared to NBC’s primetime giant “Friends,” which pulls in about 14.7 million (based on average per-minute viewership), and Time Inc.’s People Magazine, which has an audience of about 26.6 million.

The study also found that added together, the 25 most-visited Web sites deliver higher Gross Ratings Points than the top-ranking magazines and primetime TV shows among high-income adults, and men of ages 18 to 49.

The DoubleClick-sponsored study aims to pick up at the point at which Frydlewicz left off at FCB, where he fielded research that compared the audience sizes of popular consumer magazines and television episodes. The company said that by showing how sites’ cumulative audiences compared to traditional media, it hoped to woo new advertising dollars to the Internet.

“Earlier this year we talked to over 200 marketers who told us their top reason for not spending more online was that their customer was not online,” said DoubleClick Chief Marketing Officer Susan Sachatello. “In comparing these mediums side-by-side using industry standard metrics, this study demonstrates that both in aggregate and in key target groups, the Internet is in fact a mainstream mass-market medium and that marketers should be going online to reach their customers.”

But questions linger about how applicable the findings could be. For one thing, sites’ cumulative audiences are determined by the total number of unique visitors. But Web media doesn’t behave like traditional media, in which cumulative audiences also represent the number of people that can be expected to see an ad. That’s because in TV and magazines, it’s assumed that audiences experience every placed ad.

On the other hand, online audiences are not exposed to every sold ad on a site. In most cases, two visitors to the same page could have different ads served to them. As a result, the concept of campaign reach as used in traditional media — and as used in computing GRPs — doesn’t necessary compute for online, as it now stands.

That’s one of the reasons that industry groups like the Interactive Advertising Bureau and the Advertising Research Foundation are working to develop a process to equate online and offline reach.

While DoubleClick is looking to address issues of reaching television-like target markets online, another research project is continuing to field new data to contribute to the argument that online media has an impact similar to traditional media.

The Online Publishers Association, in connection with researcher Dynamic Logic, released figures this week touting Web media’s branding power, especially for sites with well-known brands. Data from more than 300 past online campaigns indicated an overall, average lift in unaided brand awareness of 11.3 percent, and a 19.4 percent lift in message association.

Compared with campaigns run on nine well-known, “branded” sites — operated by OPA members — Dynamic Logic surveys found that the OPA sites delivered even greater increases. The researcher tracked lifts in unaided awareness of 27.5 percent, and message association, with 32.6 percent.

Campaigns on the branded sites also posted higher aided awareness (5.3 percent lift, versus 4.4 percent for the average site), brand favorability (1.6 percent lift, versus 1.2 percent) and purchase intent (1.6 percent lift, versus 1.5 percent).

“There is an apparent interaction working to advertisers’ advantage on sites for which visitors have high affinity and loyalty,” said OPA Executive Director Michael Zimbalist. “The reason that advertisers are getting greater impact from these types of sites may be due to the high level of involvement that consumers have with high-quality content. It’s also likely that when a consumer has a high regard for an editorial brand, there is a ‘halo effect’ on the advertisements they see within that context.”

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