Media Forum: Will Nielsen change trading?

Can its IAG system revolutionise TV advertising, Alasdair Reid asks.

The Nielsen Company has somewhat bold expectations of a new product launched last week. Called Nielsen IAG (the IAG letters, it confides, disappointingly, carry no meaning whatsoever), it's an advertising effectiveness system designed to monitor how engaged viewers are with TV programming and the advertising around it.

This analysis, in turn, will help planners and buyers make smarter decisions about which environments are likely to work best for them in the future. It claims that many of the top 100 US advertisers, worried about the potential impact of people skipping ads or multi-tasking on PCs and mobiles while watching TV, now peg prices to measures of how engaged viewers are with the programmes. In 2006, based on Nielsen IAG metrics, NBC became the first US television network to guarantee viewer engagement levels to advertisers including Johnson & Johnson.

In other words, Nielsen claims, the IAG research data has "revolutionised TV airtime trading in the US over the past five years". Quite a claim. Will it now manage to pull off a similar trick on this side of the Atlantic?

It's doubtful, Justin Gibbons, a managing partner at Work Research, reckons. He explains: "To my mind, there have always been well-established quality-of-viewing metrics out there. The Billetts rack, for instance, has a quality axis as well as a cost axis. So our existing quality metrics are tied to solid numbers - and are based on factors that have been established over the years in effectiveness studies."

Gibbons would like to know more about how the research is to be conducted. However, he remains sceptical about the sort of impact it can make on the UK's "arcane" TV trading system. He adds: "In reality, TV buying is still done in a fairly blunt way. Eighty per cent of programming isn't appointment to view television. There's not a lot of end-of-Big-Brother, cup final programming out there. Most is low engagement. Yes, this sort of research could be a positive step in that it could aid more precise buying. And we want to encourage that. But the numbing factors will remain - the closer you get to the actual market, the faster precision tends to disappear."

David Fletcher, the head of Mediaedge:cia's MediaLab, says he'll look seriously at any initiative that helps with what he calls "real-time course correction" - but he adds: "If I need early-indication real-time viewer response to a campaign, there are several other routes available, so this one needs to demonstrate hard-edged and competitive benefits to other methods.

"Most advertisers focus on building reach - and as a large part of that, we already accept that different spots do different things. Some spots that are effective at building unique reach for an audience might not be the perfect environment but present a very effective route to extending coverage. At a spot level, any course-correction system based on environment and engagement factors will need to be quite strong to derail this approach."

MediaCom's chief strategy officer, Sue Unerman, expresses similar reservations. She says: "There have always been other products around that do quality of viewing. For instance, we buy minute-by-minute data to analyse what the best persistence-to-view programmes are. If people view through a break, they're more likely to remember the ads because they are not doing other things.

"But it's also true that we are moving more into an ecology of real-time planning where we may be trying to make the most of the fact that people may, for instance, be using their laptops while viewing. And we may also be judging what we do based on data about the brand and what people think about it from a range of databases, including Google Analytics, social network monitoring and sales data. We're moving to a world where we make decisions on a weekly or daily basis."

Meanwhile, Toby Roberts, the head of strategy at OMD UK, points out that the research seems to do two things - measure media effectiveness and measure ad effectiveness. It's the second half of this proposition that he's sceptical about. IAG seems to assume that if a respondent can describe what happens in an ad, that's proof positive of its effectiveness.

Roberts concludes: "It is, of course, possible that people can describe exactly what's happening in an ad and completely fail to understand it. I suspect, like any research into the art of advertising, that this could be helpful in the right hands, but downright dangerous in the wrong ones."

NO - JUSTIN GIBBONS, MANAGING PARTNER, WORK RESEARCH

"I can't see it as revolutionary in the short term. Comparisons with the US are misleading too. We're already slightly better served by research and our planning and buying in TV is less fragmented."

NO - DAVID FLETCHER, HEAD, MEDIALAB

"Strategic or tactical course correction is only achievable if you have the flexibility to do something about it. If research tells me that the only ad I've got isn't working, what do I do? Pull the campaign? Possible - but unlikely."

MAYBE - SUE UNERMAN, CHIEF STRATEGY OFFICER, MEDIACOM

"It has to deliver cost-efficiencies over and above the efficiencies delivered by all the other research stuff that's already available. And it assumes in any case that advertisers want to cherry-pick breaks. Some don't."

MAYBE - TOBY ROBERTS, HEAD OF STRATEGY, OMD UK

"Whether IAG will ever become a trading currency is anyone's guess, but it will be helpful in refining schedules. Understanding the correlation between programme attention and ad recall in more detail is a good thing - we're beta-testing a system that does exactly this."

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