The Danger of Regurgitated Press Releases

Last week, we talked about how dangerous it is for media outlets serving the online media-buying community to simply regurgitate press releases without doing due diligence on the product or service described in the release. I used a specific example of a piece of journalism that I felt didn’t do enough analysis on the subject it was covering, and if I’d had more space in last week’s installment, I would have cited more examples.

This week, I spotted another example, only this one is a lot worse.

On Monday, AdRelevance issued a news release concerning a report it issued entitled “The Science (or Art?) of Online Media Planning.” Some of the conclusions discussed in this release pertained to the lifespan of banners, the extent to which ad targeting is used, and the share of ad impressions garnered by the typical online advertiser. Several respected online media outlets picked up the release: Ad Age’s Interactive Daily, AdWeek, and internet.com’s Internet Advertising Report among them.

The scary part? Not one of these respected news sources appeared to question the validity of the report or its conclusions. No one was quoted other than the source of the report. No media planners were asked about what they might conclude from the data comprising the report. Does this seem dangerous to anyone? Or is it just me?

We’ve already discussed the difficulty with predicting competitive ad spending on the web. For the same reasons that I question AdRelevance’s ability to provide online competitive ad-spending information, I also question its ability to make some of the claims that it makes in the report. Take the following from the Intelligence Report, for instance…

“In the majority of cases, a banner advertisement will run for three weeks or less, but longer running banners stretch the average banner run length to five and a half weeks.”

Short of asking the media planners booking the activity, how can AdRelevance possibly know how long a banner runs on a given site? If it notices that a banner no longer appears within a section of a site, how does it know that the banner hasn’t moved to a more targeted area, or maybe that it’s been targeted to a specific profile?

And from the press release accompanying the Intelligence Report…

“The broadest reach on the Internet is typically available through three main genres of sites: portals, search engines, and community sites. Measuring by industry the ratio of broad reach advertising to more focused advertising, one can better understand who is targeting their ads.”

Since when does advertising on portals necessarily equate to advertising broadly? I can utilize Yahoo to do a broad reach campaign, but I can also buy keywords or make use of behavioral and psychographic targeting as well. How can AdRelevance make this generalization?

Here’s another thing in the AdRelevance report that bugs me:

“The average banner runs for four weeks using heavier advertising earlier in the month with over 60 percent of all impressions in the first two weeks.” How is it possible for AdRelevance to know how many impressions a given advertiser has bought within a given site or across a given campaign? There’s no reliable way, short of espionage, to get this information, and I’d guess that AdRelevance probably doesn’t have spies on its payroll. These are the types of questions I’d like to see answered in future press coverage. When I made a similar point in my last column, several readers emailed me and said, “Tom, why don’t you take a stab at it?” Believe me, I’d like to. However, I’ve got a full-time job to do. Most media planners are in the same position, and they depend on press coverage to help keep them informed. See the problem?

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