In the same way that newspapers release independently audited circulation figures, websites have wanted authoritative figures for the size of their audience. Five years ago the ABC stepped in, in the form of ABC Electronic (ABCE), but most sites remained unaudited.
A gauntlet was thrown down in June by Marcus Leaver, chief executive of Rivals.net and head of Chrysalis’ new media arm. Launching Chrysalis’ “audit or be damned” campaign, he sent letters to over 1,000 unaudited sites, telling them to get a monthly check-up or Chrysalis would “name and shame” them from September 1.
Chrysalis pushed the right buttons. Its initiative was welcomed as “helpful” by ABCE, and the Internet Advertising Bureau (IAB), which last week started its own “regular audit” crusade, made favourable noises.
But since most smallto medium-sized sites can ill afford costly monthly audits, the campaign was seen by some as an attack on smaller sites. Last week, after a barrage of criticism over its tactics, Chrysalis sheepishly withdrew the threat, and instead backed the IAB’s less strident campaign.
Surely only cynics would connect the Chrysalis campaign with its announcement in June of a £9.1m half-year loss in its new media businesses – enough to outweigh the profits from the radio, music and TV operations. And the fact that Rivals.net has plenty of competition from small, unaudited football sites is, presumably, also a coincidence.
Ask any online media buyer, and they will tell you that site audits are increasingly irrelevant. Charlie Dobres, chief executive of I-Level, points out that most agencies already use third-party tracking software to check their campaigns, and many media buyers consider monthly site audits “a bit of a red herring really”.
In that case, why not audit the online campaigns themselves, to check if they were seen?
ABCE says it can do it. But campaign results are almost always confidential, so that’s not much help. Perhaps it would be more pertinent, as happens in the US, to audit the ad-tracking software, rather than the sites?
Online media isn’t like newspapers, radio or TV. You can tell if someone saw your ad, so why do you need the media owner to tell you, audited or not?
There has been no word from the companies that backed Leaver’s campaign – IPC Electric, Carat Interactive and Guardian Unlimited – but the next call for an auditing crusade is due any day, I’m sure.
Mike Butcher is a columnist for New Media Age