The Week’s Agenda: Look Around

“And so you’re gonna have to go and find it, / You’ll have to dig beneath the ground.”

John Popper was addressing a troubled friend on his CD “Four,” but he could have been addressing Internet advertising today.

Giving ad buyers the metrics they want may mean looking elsewhere for key technology. Europe has some of it.

One reason Europe has some of it is that there the Web has been forced to come up with solutions to problems that the U.S. industry has yet to acknowledge.

For example, the European Union’s (EU’s) restrictive privacy rules, which the U.S. government is still fighting, nevertheless caused many sites there to start building registration databases back in the mid-1990s. Sites there can tell you things about their users that sites here can only guess at.

The lack of a dot-com boom also made the European industry move quickly toward cooperation on standards for audience measurement.

Recently, Germany’s IVW, the equivalent of our IAB (Interactive Advertising Bureau), installed close to 100 “black boxes” around the German Net to gather audience information, and those boxes are being turned on this month.

One result is that German advertisers can readily access certified numbers on users and site visits — numbers they can trust and base buys on.

A measurement scheme for counting users and site visits has already been accepted throughout the country and will likely be accepted throughout the EU as well, according to consultant Klaus Arnhold of Hamburg.

In other words, while the United States has been fighting Europe’s privacy regulations, European technology companies have been solving the problem.

One result, Arnhold says, is that U.S. Web companies in Europe are having trouble, and not just because of the language differences.

They come in, Arnhold says, with the attitude of “Here we are, let us show you how it’s done,” ignoring not just local laws, but local solutions.

Now it turns out that some of those solutions may be applicable here. America’s anonymous Web can’t tell non-com advertisers anything about their audiences or how much of an industry they’ll reach buying ads on specific sites.

German sites can get this data to advertisers, and in a standard format. One result is that ads from advertisers such as Mercedes-Benz are common on sites like that of Stern magazine, while big U.S. sites like MSNBC still make do with Casino on Net and Classmates.com.

Why aren’t there more ads for Chrysler on AOL-owned Time.com? It could be that Time doesn’t speak the language Chrysler needs to hear. It turns out some of the necessary words may be in German.

Arnhold is among those now holding themselves out as “guides” to a local technology landscape, and he should find a niche.

The German language isn’t that hard, after all. You just run words together like you’d wreck a train, throw the verbs to the end, gargle through the consonants, and sprinkle umlauts over the top. (Just kidding, Freunde.)

The point is that as more countries enter e-commerce, based on local laws and customs, technology outfits are finding ways to adapt. American firms need to look at those solutions and adopt those that work.

If someone else’s trouble with government, in other words, has become your problem with the market, then look around: The solution to your problem may already exist.

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