CAMPAIGN-I: Spotlight on - Electronic ABC figures. Internet regulator introduces more precise web measures. Electronic ABC figures are being introduced, but will they help?

Perhaps the digital media market will come, in time, to thank

Steven Laitman for the wake-up call he provided. Laitman, an unlikely

master criminal described variously (and unsurprisingly) as "a cheerful

geek" and a "computer nerd", was also the founder and chief executive of

the leisure portal e-district. Back in March he was banged to rights for

falsifying performance figures for his company's main website, thus

pulling the wool over more than a few pairs of eyes in the City and

keeping his share price unfeasibly large.



Laitman was amazed he was caught - after all, he only tweaked his actual

electronic circulation figure of 57 million hits per month up to a

claimed figure of 367 million. I mean, what's a discrepancy of 310

million between friends? That's a mere 643 per cent margin of error,

after all.



The e-district site, you will not be surprised to learn, didn't have an

official electronic Audit Bureau of Circulations figure. Instructively

though, the scam didn't burn many fingers in the advertising industry,

though the inflated performance figures did no harm in helping the

e-district sales execs get their feet in the doors of one or two online

buying departments. The ad industry doesn't necessarily use ABC figures

- electronic or otherwise - as a fundamental mainstream trading

currency.



In the online world buyers tend to pay for delivered inventory as

measured by the third party ad servers they use.



On the other hand, the ad industry would be ill-advised to be less than

enthusiastic about last week's news from the international federation of

ABCs. The body announced a global agreement on the definition of various

"metrics" such as page impressions, unique users and a whole host of

terms that people have been bandying about with impunity for years now.

(A complete list of over 30 metric definitions is available at

www.ifabc.org).



Is this a big deal? After all, we're only talking about semantics here

aren't we? Definitions of things it would be nice to measure

accurately.



Does this actually move the industry further from its anarchic

beginnings towards a universal and reliable trading currency?



Richard Foan, the managing director of ABC//electronic in the UK and

Ireland, was instrumental in pushing through the new agreement. He

obviously heralds this as a huge step forward. He states: "There are

lots of significant things about this, not least the fact that the

Internet Advertising Bureau is 100 per cent behind these new metrics. I

think we have true standards for the internet at last. It's also

important that these are international standards. It's the culmination

of a lot of work and will answer those who have been calling for

standards in the industry."



Foan also points out that the metrics embraced by the new agreement also

include relatively new platforms like WAP, SMS and interactive

television and that the agreement also seeks to support wholly new

notions such as measuring the amount of time people actually spend

within various digital environments.



So, an important milestone? That will probably depend on media

owners.



After all, these are just definitions and guidelines and it's not even

compulsory for web companies to provide any sort of audited figures - as

fans of the Steven Laitman school of wheeling and dealing know only too

well. On the other hand, more than 200 site owners, including a great

many big hitters, have already signed up.



Neil Perkin, the digital ad director at IPC, sees the agreement as very

good news indeed. He states: "Overall, it adds to confidence in the

medium and will add to transparency. Anything that helps deliver

standardisation is important and it gives media owners even more

ammunition in selling to advertisers. From our particular point of view

we're pleased that there's progress on measuring traffic on new

platforms like WAP and SMS. It's important for media buyers to

understand how people are accessing different sites and using different

platforms."



What, though, of agencies? The media buying community can claim with

some justification that they were issuing wake-up calls long before

Steven Laitman began playing with his creative auditing kit. For

instance, last September, Quantum New Media Services published a charter

calling for a higher degree of professionalism in the online business -

and for a standardised trading currency.



Does the ABC announcement move us much further on? Yes, on balance,

Dominic Mansour, an associate director at Quantum, says: "Some of the

things they are doing are not wholly relevant from an advertiser

perspective. For instance, time duration is not something we actually

trade in although it is something we might consider in the future." On

the other hand, Mansour agrees that measuring time duration will help

the medium from a bigger picture point of view - it will help people to

talk generally about the value of the medium in grabbing attention and

that is fundamentally important in the whole planning process.



He adds: "The bottom line is that the ABC announcement is the right sort

of news for the industry. Now we need everyone to sign up to it. People

want to trade with confidence with a medium. And this sort of agreement

will be especially important in encouraging advertisers who work largely

offline to embrace the medium."



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