NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- Visible World, one of the most established players in the realm of targeted TV advertising, hopes to make strides against one of addressable advertising's biggest obstacles: data measurement.
The company is partnering with Acxiom, Experian and Nielsen for a first-of-its-kind data exchange that will merge all the set-top-box data advertisers and agencies need to determine targeted ads' effectiveness under one platform.
The data will be compatible with Visible World's zone-based addressability product, which is available in 52 million households in 105 markets, with more expected by year's end. Visible World also has a household-addressable ad product available in about 500,000 homes through a partnership with Cablevision, which is expected to roll out to all customers by 2010.
It's been a roller-coaster year for addressable TV advertising. Canoe Ventures scuttled initial plans to roll out its first addressable product -- designed to make ads more relevant to viewers based on demographic data from cable zones, or ZIP-code-like neighborhoods, using set-top-box data -- citing operational difficulties. The delayed plans were seen as a major snag for Canoe, a consortium of the six largest cable operators led by former Aegis Media CEO David Verklin, whose long-stated vision has been to "put dog-food ads in front of people who own dogs."
Testing versions of the same ad
By merging all three data streams together, Visible World will help advertisers better test different versions of the same ad against various demographics and household incomes. For example, Cablevision's Optimum cable service, a charter advertiser, has been using Visible World's system to test simultaneous versions of the same ad: one encouraging prospective customers to sign up for a cable subscription and another asking existing Optimum cable subscribers to upgrade to the service's triple-play package. If one ad wasn't seeing high adoption rates as quickly as Cablevision might've hoped, it could swap out the ad in favor of another or even lower the price offered in the ad's creative.
"What we found was the performance results were as impactful as everybody expected," said Tara Walpert, president of Visible World. "Everybody saw the value of targeted TV campaigns. To be truly taking advantage of real-time changes, there were still too many manual steps in the process. This makes it loud and clear to our customers that there's tremendous value in automating the access to data and the targeting process between segmentation and creative in order to be able to get the same benefit with less work and with reduced time in between campaigns."
Matt Seiler, global CEO of Universal McCann, said he sees the technology as the biggest step yet toward converting national cable advertising into hyper-targeted local advertising that can ultimately determine how ads affect product sales. "It's about getting communications that go way beyond the ZIP code," he said. "So if I know what I'm pumping into a neighborhood and I see how that message is [getting consumers] into a Shop Rite and how it's working vs. another one, that's what we're talking about. The more micro the message, the more specific the audience reached and the more trackable their behavior."
It's a concept more advertisers are experimenting with in earnest. Visible World's client count is up 30% to about 350 advertisers for its zone-addressable product, and about half a dozen advertisers are testing the household product. Of course, zone addressability doesn't allow the same precision as household addressability. To use Mr. Verklin's example, an ad can target a neighborhood with a high concentration of dog owners but not specific homes with dogs.
That's why some in the cable industry fear that continued experimentation with household addressability without scale could create a new currency for TV buying that eventually takes up too much investment and bandwidth and ultimately isn't worth the effort. "If this becomes a new cost of doing business, shame on us," said one cable-network executive. "But hopefully it's an added value to the advertiser they'll pay more for. Everyone wants to pick up a piece of the pie along the way, but at the end of the day, is the advertiser willing to pay more for this technology?"
Ms. Walpert is confident that more cable operators will adopt household-addressable technology in the coming months, particularly as more proof of addressable advertising's effectiveness plays out in current deployment.
"This helps our abilities to offer scalable solutions to advertisers," Ms. Walpert said. "If you think about the manual steps that were required before, we're helping agencies automate the process and take away a lot of the steps to determine how the data matches the creative and the delivery against a specific target."