Media: All about ... Online advertising measurement

Is a single online planning currency on the horizon? Alasdair Reid reports.

Yet more evidence of the effects of global warming. Joint industry research initiatives usually advance at a glacial pace - as you'd expect, really, of any entity featuring the "C" word. "C" as in committee.

Back in the summer, when it was announced that the online advertising industry's various interested parties were toying with the notion of taking the Joint Industry Committee for Internet Measurement Systems to the next stage, some observers confidently expected to hear no more on this front for a good long while.

But no. If JICIMS is a glacier, it already seems to be melting and on the slide. And you have to suspect this is largely because, in this case, "C" also stands for Cranmer.

Mark Cranmer, the former EMEA chief executive of Starcom MediaVest Group and, more latterly, worldwide chief executive of Research International, was appointed to the part-time position of JICIMS chairman in August. His task: to galvanise the UK's digital media community and prod it into making real strides towards the development of a new currency.

He promised to organise a summit meeting, embracing the UK's whole online community, to take place within weeks - and, last week, he revealed that he had delivered. It was held on 15 October.

A total of 84 delegates attended, including representatives of all of the JICIMS stakeholders; and speakers included Bernard Balderston, the associate director, media, at Procter & Gamble, Richard Brooke, the communications buying manager of Unilever, Guy Phillipson, the chief executive of the Internet Advertising Bureau, Neil Mortensen, the research director of OPera, and Matt Simpson, the head of digital at OMD and the chair of the IPA's Digital Group.

It went well. The UK industry is now unanimous in its belief that a single online currency will "help accelerate advertiser usage and grow the medium". The JICIMS board has now been charged with drawing up more detailed plans and costings - and the preferred option will be a fully funded audience panel. Something, in other words, along the lines of the Barb audience panel in the TV medium.

Sceptics will, of course, point out that nothing concrete has really emerged as yet. But Cranmer himself is in no doubt as to the significance of this accord. He comments: "I am delighted that we had such a positive and constructive summit with a wide representation from all stakeholder groups. There was a strong consensus and alignment as to the tasks ahead for the JICIMS board. We can move forward with a clear mandate to provide a path to unity and report this to the industry by the end of the year."

1. The JICIMS shareholders are: the UK Association of Online Publishers, the IAB, the IPA and ISBA. They initially set up JICIMS as a "not-for-profit company limited by guarantee" in April 2007, with an avowed aim to explore ways to "set up a user-centric planning system which (will achieve) the status of a recognised planning currency among advertisers, agencies and online media owners".

2. The AOP represents the interests of traditional media owners - newspaper publishers, consumer magazine publishers, broadcasters and business-to- business media. Its chairman is Simon Waldman, the group director of digital strategy and development at Guardian Media Group.

3. Historically, AOP members have seen the world slightly differently to their counterparts at the IAB, which represents a far wider spectrum of the digital advertising community, from ad-server companies and behavioural targeting specialists to creative agencies and software developers. There is a considerable degree of crossover, with many AOP members also signed up to the IAB, but, from a media-owner point of view, its stance tends to be dominated by the demands of the big pure-play companies, such as the portals - companies that have been well-served by existing online research currencies.

4. In March 2008, JICIMS published a request for proposals document for research companies likely to be interested in tendering for a future JICIMS contract. It sets out rather vague outlines concerning the possible scope of the project, should it get the go-ahead; and invites similarly vague responses from the research companies about what they'd be able to bring to the party. Follow-ing the summit, this dialogue is expected to become somewhat more focused.

WHAT IT MEANS FOR ...

ADVERTISERS

- It is significant, of course, that the UK's two most important FMCG advertisers were so heavily involved in this summit - but then a new JICIMS currency is of more interest to FMCG advertisers than to advertisers in other sectors, from finance to travel, that have been early adopters of online.

- These early adopters don't, arguably, need much in the way of new research - they tend to use online as a direct-response medium and are more than happy with existing headcount and response metrics.

- The likes of Procter & Gamble and Unilever are keen on the sort of demographic and audience behaviour data that they can use to enhance the planning (as opposed to buying) process in branding campaigns.

- What they (and the other major advertisers that dominate ISBA) want, they tend to get - even in new (and therefore not fully house-trained) sectors such as digital.

DIGITAL MEDIA OWNERS

- For many observers, one of the more significant aspects of the summit was the fact that the UK Association of Online Publishers was happy for Guy Phillipson, the chief executive of the Internet Advertising Bureau, to speak on its behalf at the summit.

- However, unanimity costs no-one a single penny at this stage. The real debate won't begin until the wise men at JICIMS, in cahoots with the research companies, have arrived at a ballpark figure for how much all of this is likely to cost.

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