Uniting in the common cause of a planning currency for the internet

Do we need a planning currency for the internet? That’s a question
increasingly being heard among the UK marketing and media community. As
the internet is arguably already the most measurable medium – with
internet service providers (ISPs) and webs…

Do we need a planning currency for the internet? That’s a question increasingly being heard among the UK marketing and media community. As the internet is arguably already the most measurable medium – with internet service providers (ISPs) and websites collecting a plethora of data on users’ behaviour – why should it envy traditional media where industry-agreed currencies have reigned for decades?While reach and frequency metrics have been the mainstay of traditional media planning for years, some argue they are outdated and, particularly where online is concerned, not up to the task. Indeed, existing internet data can measure so much more: marketers can track their customers’ journeys from how much time they spend on various webpages to where they came from, and whether they make a purchase online or click on an ad. All this behavioural tracking is relatively low cost compared with other media, and is one of the main reasons why the internet has grown.

So why bother with a planning currency? After all, it will cost a small fortune, and such investment could be diverted into cross-media studies or brand engagement research where the return on investment might be more obvious and immediate.

It would be a fair question if advertising campaigns ran solely online, but as this is rarely the case, marketers want to know the weight of their campaigns across all media. Additionally, the stakeholder, technology and media consumption landscapes have changed and the internet is fast becoming the playground of brand advertising, partly due to rich media, which enables ads to be more creative and engaging.

Some sceptics may still perceive the internet as a direct-response medium, but the reality is that an explosion of online video content reinforces the internet’s brand-building credentials.

Media owners are accelerating this change: traditional print and TV businesses are competing alongside pure-plays such as Yahoo! and MSN; EMAP has announced it wants to raise online revenues from 10% to 30% by 2010; Channel 4 is to run ads on 4oD; and the BBC and YouTube have climbed into bed with a cosy clips-for-ad-revenue arrangement.

As most advertisers have now dipped their toes in the online advertising pool and even diehards like Procter & Gamble are talking of taking the digital plunge, there is still one large obstacle – the absence of a planning currency for the internet that can make cross-media planning simple and intuitive.

There are millions of pounds of advertising business not yet on the internet, particularly in the packaged goods sector. This is unlikely to change if brand owners do not fully trust online measurement. The tremendous growth experienced in online advertising is unlikely to be replicated if the last significant barrier is not broken.

As there is no way to leapfrog it’s time to tackle it head on. The Internet Advertising Bureau UK has long worked with the industry to ensure marketers can easily identify the best role for online and help them engage their customers and build their brands. Together the IAB, the Association of Online Publishers,, the Institute of Practitioners in Advertising and ISBA have created Jicims, the Joint Industry Committee for Internet Measurement Systems – a standalone body committed to examining the need for a planning currency and providing tools to support marketers.

Under the day-to-day management of Peter Bowman, an experienced media researcher, Jicims’ first initiative is to launch an online population survey in partnership with the National Readership Survey, which will establish a benchmark for the industry. As part of its monthly face-to-face research of 3,000 adults, the NRS now includes a detailed examination of the online population and its behaviour.

As well as complete demographic information, the survey includes frequency of internet usage, usage by location and mode of access, such as by PC, PDA or other mobile device. The results of the study, published this month, provide consistent figures about the online audience – a significant step in the right direction.

Its follow-up is the development of a single online planning currency that can be integrated into existing cross-media planning tools. This will not happen overnight as the internet is a complex medium and we must ensure all corners of the industry are in agreement.

However, even the most sceptical stakeholders must surely realise the value an accountable and future-proof currency can deliver. Developing a currency is not impossible, but is a mighty undertaking that requires cross-industry co-operation and patience. We are at the start of a journey that will ultimately unite and equally benefit marketers, media owners and agencies.

By Laurence Bird, head of planning and research at the IAB UK, and vice-president of interactive at the Advertising Bureau Europe.

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