Eva Pascoe

The Internet should be the answer to every marketer’s dream, providing a high earning, highly discerning market. Yet a lack of agreed standards for measuring Web traffic is holding back what is a truly one-to-one medium

Even the most diehard technophobes will have realised that, like it or not, the lnternet is here to stay. Conservative estimates of global advertising spend in the medium are more than $200m in 1996, $1.4bn in 1998 and $2.6bn in 2000.

And there’s no reason why the Internet shouldn’t emerge as the most transparent medium to date. The Web can offer real-time access to viewing statistics and accurate audience demographics. And Net users represent a high socio-economic grouping – high-earning and highly-discerning.

Isn’t that what advertisers have always wanted? Yet the Web seems to be failing either to deliver an audience or win significant advertising spend. What’s the problem? Too many sites chasing the same budgets? Agencies having trouble negotiating the learning curve? Well yes. And no.

Advertisers want hard statistics. Not unreasonably, they want to know who is looking at what, and when.

But site owners say it’s not as simple as that. Isn’t it? Far too many sites have been reluctant to reveal their viewing figures. This is often through embarrassment. And it is partly because the measurement process is turning out to be more complicated than thought.

“So you are claiming a million hits? Sounds great. So how many users is that?” “Um, sorry, we’ll have to get back to you.” The result – a lack of confidence in the medium and distrust of the whole environment.

Spying an opening in the market, wholesale media sales operations are being set up or talked about. New Media Marketing & Sales is one (see profile opposite), with speculation that others are entering the market, offering to sell aggregated, large-volume audiences to advertisers.

But it is not a wholesale approach to media sales which overcomes the real stumbling block to advertising on the Net. This is the lack of agreed standards of measuring Web traffic and demographics. If these issues were resolved, advertisers would be far more confident in buying into the Net.

With the right kind of tracking software and standards, the Web can evolve into the definitive form of one-to-one marketing – targeted, exact, and interactive. When that happens, the focus of the debate will shift.

The important thing will not be who is selling, but where they’re selling. And that battle will be fought on content, because it will be content that attracts both audiences and big bucks.

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