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IAB issues Net ad metrics standards

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Advertisers and agencies say they support new online ad guidelines issued by the Interactive Advertising Bureau, although they say there is still much work to do before the measurement issue is resolved.

In early January, the IAB released its long-awaited voluntary guidelines, which establish definitions for five key metrics used in evaluating the performance of Internet advertising.

The study was conducted in partnership with consulting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers, the Media Ratings Council, the Advertising Research Foundation and ABC Interactive. In addition, the Association of National Advertisers and the American Association of Advertising Agencies provided input.

"We are definitely in support of anything that will begin to examine the measurement issue," said Barbara Bacci Mirque, senior VP of the ANA.

"Lack of consistent and reliable measurement is always at the top of the list of why members are not buying more—or not buying at all—Internet advertising," she said, pointing to the ANA’s annual survey on Net marketing.

Defining goals

One of the goals of the guidelines is to get the industry to use the same terminology when buying, selling and evaluating the performance of online advertising. Online ad sellers, buyers and third-party measurement services have operated with different methodologies for the key metrics that are used.

The guidelines set specific definitions for ad impressions, page impressions, clicks, visits and "unique" measures, such as unique users or browsers.

The guidelines also recommend standard reporting procedures for online advertising, such as separate reporting for impression-like activity, including pop-up ads and interstitials.

"Definition of key metrics is not enough," said Thomas Hyland, partner at PricewaterhouseCoopers’ New Media Group. "A well-controlled process must be in place."

To reach an agreement on the definitions, PricewaterhouseCoopers conducted an audit of 10 major online destination sites, portals and ad servers, beginning last summer. The companies involved were AOL Time Warner Inc., Atlas DMT, CNET Networks Inc., Walt Disney Internet Group, DoubleClick Inc., Forbes.com, Microsoft Corp.’s MSN, The New York Times Digital, Terra Lycos and Yahoo! Inc.

All of the companies supplied information on their measurement criteria and practices, and participated in interviews and testing of reporting systems.

"This provides a basis for disclosure," said Greg Stuart, CEO of the IAB. "This lays the foundation for significant growth [in online ad spending]."

However, for the guidelines to work, they must be adopted not only by sites and ad serving companies but by advertisers and agencies. Some buyers already have sophisticated systems and procedures in place for evaluating online campaigns, and they don’t plan to change them just because new definitions have been released.

Betsy Sperry, exec VP-managing director of Beyond Interactive, said the guidelines will not affect the way the agency buys or measures online ads.

Beyond Interactive, whose largest client is Oracle Corp., was one of the first agencies that established a contract for online ad buying that is based on full receipt of an image—meaning a fully loaded page and fully loaded ad—as the definition of an impression. Furthermore, if the site does not deliver to the advertiser what was agreed on, Beyond requests and obtains make-goods for the order.

"We appreciate the actions taken by the IAB, and we think it’s the right step," Sperry said. However, she added, "We will continue to operate as we have."

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