There's not much to measure yet. But as Web ad-measurement companies try to make sense of a category that needs to be defined, opinions differ on prospects.
"The promise of Internet advertising will only be extended as you move to the wireless realm," says Charlie Buchwalter, VP-media research at AdRelevance, a unit of Media Metrix that tracks online advertising.
Doug McFarland, senior VP-sales and account development at Media Metrix, is less sure. "We have to figure out what the business model is around this, and it may not be just an ad-supported business in the way we talk about traditional media or the Internet," he says.
Messrs. Buchwalter and McFarland might not be that far apart in their thinking. It may come down to what wireless "advertising" means. Much of wireless target marketing is likely to take new forms that deliver relevant information to users but in a form that doesn't fit a current advertising template.
Media Metrix and rival NetRatings are studying the field, paying close attention to developments in more advanced wireless markets such as Europe and Japan.
Wireless, says NetRatings Senior VP-Marketing and co-founder Tim Meadows, is "an extension of what we want to be in the PC space, which is the premier source for Internet audience measurement. In order to do that, you've got to have a play in wireless."
It's the same score at Media Metrix.
WHAT TO COUNT?
But what to count? "It's totally unclear as to what the industry wants measured," says Mr. McFarland. For example, Media Metrix might track delivery of content, such as sports scores from ESPN.com or restaurant information from Zagat.com. Or it could count pure ads, if they materialize.
Mr. Meadows sees e-mail promotion as another prospect. "The most likely incarnation of an ad in a wireless world is an imbedded
e-mail ad," he says.
Figuring out what to measure is one matter. Accurately counting it is another. Media Metrix and NetRatings, for example, currently measure audience for Web sites and ads through panels of PC users at home and work. That approach might not work in the wireless field.
Measurement companies figure they have time to work on their strategies. The real opportunities, executives say, will come in two to five years when new devices and services gain enough users to attract interest from marketers.
"It's so far out and there are so many issues on our plate right now that we haven't gone there," says Mr. Buchwalter.
CAUTIOUS ABOUT WIRELESS BETS
Measurement companies are cautious. "The jury remains out on the consumer utility of these (wireless) devices," says Mr. McFarland, recalling failures in years past of hyped technologies such as interactive TV and of electronic organizers such as Apple Computer's Newton.
Interactive TV and electronic organizers are back -- much changed from what they were like when they imploded in the mid-'90s. The lesson for optimists is to leave room to maneuver rather than locking in one wireless solution too early.
"You just know with 100% certainty that the chances that some of these early-adopter efforts are going to stick around and become the standard is very close to zero," says AdRelevance's Mr. Buchwalter.
For marketers who lived through early Web advertising, this period of jockeying for standards will seem quite familiar.