Internet advertising across Europe may be dismissed by many as a media minnow, but this status is set to change as it continues to grow at a staggering rate.
During the past year, the value of the industry in Europe has more than quadrupled to an estimated $45m (28m) and, by Softbank’s estimates, up to $13m (8m) in the UK.
However, the lack of accurate and consistent Europe-focused research has been a constant problem
The European market is particularly complex, comprising a series of local markets, developing at very different rates.
This complexity, combined with the current lack of standardisation and the timidity of media owners and brands to reveal deals, creates inherent problems in tracking and predicting trends. There is, therefore, a vital need for experienced analysts, who understand the European markets, to step forward.
To date, the majority of the undertaking has been left to the top US-based analysts who, as yet, do not appear to fully comprehend either the scale of Europe or its various idiosyncratic traits.
To compound the problem, analysts tend to use very different research methods in Europe – the result has been a scattering of confusing and over-modest findings. The latest estimate from US-based Jupiter Research, for example, put European-wide revenues for 1997 at just $20m, way down on estimates coming out of Europe itself.
Individual markets need to be scrutinised and understood on a country-by-country basis before a truly accurate picture of the European experience emerges.
Failure to do this can only lead to skewed results. Holland, for example, is all too frequently designated as a major market. In reality, its significance is exaggerated by its status as a centre for a number of servers which handle huge traffic originating in Western Europe, but not necessarily in Holland itself.
During 1997, many other mistakes were made.
Germany, France, the UK and Holland were often quoted as the only important markets, ignoring Scandinavia and Spain.
While Germany, France and the UK are large markets, they still have a long way to go to reach the level of maturity Scandinavia enjoys.
Meanwhile, Spain has seen staggering growth over the past year with initiatives to encourage online banking and commerce, and aggressive marketing of TelefÃÂ²nica.
It is always dangerous to focus on the centre and ignore what is happening on the fringe .
As common standards begin to appear and third-party auditing is widely adopted, the difficulties of analysing growth and trends should diminish.
In the meantime, it is up to all of us in the industry, the ultimate beneficiaries, to press the analysts to do a better job.