Let’s stop deliberating and start calibrating

As demand for accountability grows, Frank Harrison argues that the technology exists for wider, better measurement. It would be inexcusable not to use it

Once again, the IPA Bellwether report shows that traditional display advertising media are having to fight harder for a share of marketing budgets. Media ad spend continued to drift downwards in 2002, while expenditure on other forms of marketing, such as direct marketing and sales promotions, was on the up. In this context, the need for display advertising media to demonstrate accountability becomes ever more important.

Alongside this, media owners need to recognise that, for advertisers and their agencies, planning is becoming an increasingly complicated task. Mixed-media campaigns present a real challenge – both in appropriate planning and in the assessment of the roles of each component in the end-result of the campaign.

The ability to break down results is immensely important in today’s decision-making processes, yet the current structure of media research does few favours to anyone. A single source of audience measurement across media sectors would not only help media agencies to assess more robustly the effectiveness of their planning; it could also help media sectors to present a stronger case for display advertising as an accountable alternative.

Given this, it is of significant interest that Rajar is looking at technologies that could provide a method to achieve this, at least across some sectors. Rajar is testing two candidate systems, both of which house metering technology in a portable device. Since both systems rely on sound – albeit an inaudible digital code in the case of one – the possibility exists for the devices to measure television and cinema consumption at the very least, if not other media.

Media owners should look carefully at this technology and consider whether collaboration in providing a single source of audience measurement is in their interests. I would suggest that such a collaboration would certainly meet their customers’ needs.

The ability to analyse the reach and frequency of mixed-media campaigns would be invaluable, as it would remove the industry’s reliance on models and combining data sources. On top of this, a single source of audience data could be linked to other panels of information, such as sales data or awareness tracking panels, which would further the potential to develop truly effective mixed-media solutions.

From the perspective of media owners, collaboration should help to produce more robust and useful data as resources are shared. Zenith Optimedia has first-hand experience of this: it is working with a consortium of media owners to develop MediaDNA, a research project which aims to increase understanding of the brand values of individual media vehicles.

The technology also promises to overcome deficiencies in existing industry research specifications. Radio measurement can move from paper-based diaries to electronic metering, while BARB panellists would no longer have to indicate when they enter or leave a room.

Collaboration between media in providing single-source media research is highly desirable. The good news is that technology has progressed far enough to make this a debate for today, rather than one to kick into the long grass.

Frank Harrison is director of strategic resources at Zenith Optimedia

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