With Audiences Shrinking, Marketers Learn to Work Narrow Trenches

At ARF Audience Measurement: Creating a Need for Cross-Media Tracking

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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- Hundreds of TV channels and niche websites have confounded the ad industry, now struggling to figure out ways not only to reach the fragments of audience that flock to these media outlets, but also to gauge their reaction to the ads they might see there. A group of more than 450 hunkered down in Manhattan's Millennium Broadway Hotel today to see if solutions to these problems were within easy reach. They aren't, as things would have it.
But attendees of an Advertising Research Foundation conference focused on audience measurement are working through a multitude of theories about how best to tackle the problem.

"Our notion of how we reach, how we influence, how we measure consumers has to change," George Shababb, chief operating officer of TNS Media Research, said during a speech to the assemblage.

New-media spend up 32%
Where advertisers could once plaster an ad on three broadcast TV networks and sprinkle print versions in a few well-selected magazines, they now must contend with emerging mobile devices, the popularity of dozens of digital-cable outlets and video distributed online. Indeed, ad expenditures on emerging types of media such as social networks, gaming, online video and paid-search advertising, among others, is expected to grow 31.7% in 2007, according to figures released today by Interpublic Group of Cos.' Magna Global. In contrast, national ad expenditures on the four big TV networks are expected to grow about 3% in 2007, according to Interpublic's Universal McCann.

But to make ads work in a new world where managing consumer niches is becoming as important as working the masses, advertisers have to devise new strategies and ponder whether they can come up with measurements that reflect their activity. One idea mentioned at the conference: combining data from cable set-top boxes with traditional Nielsen ratings to get a sense of how people watch TV.

Creating a 'cascade'
With audiences getting smaller, marketers are going to have to learn to work the narrow trenches. Manipulating new consumer networks fomented by the internet can be a new way to send relevant commercial messages out to slivers of audiences affiliated with a particular topic. The hope, said Duncan Watts, a Columbia sociology professor, is to create a "cascade," where one person or group pushes information to another person or group. The process can be akin to "hitting billiard balls one by one," but it does stand as a means of promoting goods and services to smaller bundles of consumers.

Meanwhile, the debate about how to identify and measure response of smaller audiences continues. Later today, the conference will consider new models and systems for analyzing media audiences in a "thin-sliced world," while a panel will discuss the ramifications of having to come up with cross-platform measurements. The ARF conference continues tomorrow.
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