Revealing e-ratings risk overexposing strategies

The launch of eRatings is an online advertisers’ dream, but some companies may find it dangerous to have their strategies laid bare.

On the face of it, the UK launch of the eRatings service by AC Nielsen is what online advertisers have been crying out for.

At last, media planners and buyers will be able to get high-quality information on prospective Websites and assess which ones are sensibly priced, generate good responses and have audience figures that match their target. However, it means a new online strategy will be available automatically to competitors at the click of a mouse. In a matter of days, it could be exposed to a subscribing competitor, complete with creative executions and some response rate information. You may as well post the information on the Web.

The aim of the service is to provide subscribers with detailed information on Internet use, including data on the most popular sites, banners seen and click rates. More in-depth analysis is also possible, such as demographic details of site users and banner respondents. Information is collected using the panel system, as with TV monitoring.

I put the US version of the system to the test in the best possible way: analysing traffic to a client’s site compared with a key competitor. Within seconds, I had the demographic patterns of each site, next to one another for easy comparison.

The analysis yielded interesting results. Both companies’ advertising strategies were directed at 16- to 35-year-old males, but site statistics showed completely different traffic profiles. In the case of my client, more than 60 per cent of users were 35-plus.

The client was also lagging behind on young visitors to the site. This suggests its traditional brand advertising has not penetrated the US youth market. At last my concerns about targeting could be proven with reliable statistics.

Clearly, the information available and marketing analysis which can be extrapolated are frighteningly powerful, especially as this data goes direct to your desk in almost real time.

From AC Nielsen’s information, not only can you see a competitor’s ads but response figures, information about what respondents did and even whether they completed a transaction.

Never before has so much information about the success (or failure) of an ad campaign or e-commerce site been so readily available. Strong creative ideas can be copied almost instantly, strategies exposed and site selection laid bare.

It can be argued that this type of information is already in the public domain. But never has one source been able to provide such sensitive competitor information so quickly. So what? you may ask. Well, this information is only available at a price.

Apparently no US company has raised issue with this to date. Even financial companies – which are usually so secretive about customer information – accept this phenomena without complaint. European companies, especially in Germany, may not be so compliant.

Richard Reed is an account director at Just Media

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