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,
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
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
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
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
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
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."