DiscoverWhy tests TV commercials online

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Harnessing the web for market research is not new. Gauging online users' real-time responses to streaming video TV spots is.

One company touting the capability is, a Bedford, Mass., spinoff of researcher Maguire Associates. Web portal Lycos, DiscoverWhy's first major client, recently tapped the researcher to test three of its commercials over the Web. Lycos' spots were put against a commercial from rival Yahoo! and one from AltaVista Co. Bozell, New York, created the Lycos spots, while Black Rocket, San Francisco, is Yahoo!'s agency and Wieden & Kennedy, Portland, Ore., is the agency for AltaVista.


DiscoverWhy polled 500 people online through its patented system, which collects consumers' responses as they watch commercials. With a mouse, participants move a tab on a sliding scale to rate a commercial from one to 10. Commercials are streamed via Microsoft Corp.'s Windows Media Player software.

Participants were selected from people who had used Internet search services at least four times a month.

Ten people were then recruited to call in their comments about the commercials, which DiscoverWhy recorded, edited and placed on its site. Study participants were invited back to listen and comment on the audio comments; about 250 did so.

"Normally you'd have 10 people (in a focus group) and that would be the end of it," said Stan Miloszewski, president-CEO of DiscoverWhy. "There's no way of rating agreement or disagreement. The margins of error are almost infinite."

DiscoverWhy, on the other hand, can poll 1,000 or more people through the Internet and reach them when it's convenient for them.

"All the time they're watching the ads, they're clicking on what they like, and the technology picks up on a second-to-second basis how people are liking the ads," added Beth Baldwin, director of marketing information at Lycos. "It's a cool technology because it's a combination of quantitative and qualitative research.

"We got some very good results that line up with what we thought to be true," she added.


Lycos found that three commercials rated well -- one in which Lycos the Labrador fetches a pair of boxer shorts to help a bagpipe player whose kilt is flapping in the wind and another in which Lycos returns with model Claudia Schiffer. The spots, however, tied with a Yahoo! commercial starring an Eskimo who shops online.

In second place was a spot in which Lycos fetches a soccer jersey. And in last was an AltaVista spot with Pamela Anderson.

As a result, Ms. Baldwin said, Lycos is considering throwing its weight behind the bagpipe and Schiffer commercials, and running the soccer commercial only during sports programming rather than its current general media buy.

DiscoverWhy, which launched its Web service in December, previously did traditional testing with clients including Stride Rite and Turner Broadcasting. It's looking to license its Web service to researchers and clients directly. So far, the University of Massachusetts has used the system and Strategic Media Research has licensed it. DiscoverWhy charges $25,000 per project to survey 500 people. Mr. Baldwin said a traditional focus group of 10 people would cost about $5,000.


While the testing has made Lycos happy with its commercials, it coincides with Lycos' decision to put its $15 million account into review (AA, March 20). Finalists include incumbent Bozell; as well the New York and Boston offices of Deutsch; Hill Holliday Connors Cosmopulos, Boston; and Lowe Lintas & Partners Worldwide, New York.

Madeline Mooney, VP-marketing at Lycos, said the testing and decision to review were unrelated and that Lycos was looking to outsource more work, especially online advertising that is handled in-house.

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