The 3-year-old study potentially affects billions of dollars in computer advertising. And the fact that an error that big occurred in a study so important is daunting.
Marianne Grogan, senior VP, blamed the mistake on "software glitches" discovered in August.
`GOLD STANDARD FOR HIGH-TECH'
Despite the problem, the industry appears to be sticking by the study.
"It seems they're pretty much the gold standard for high-tech," said Scott Daly, VP-media director at Hajjar/Kaufman, the Marina del Rey, Calif., agency for Canon Computer Systems.
In effect, IntelliQuest is managing its way through the media research equivalent of a Pentium chip problem. Two years ago, Intel Corp. belatedly acknowledged a minor calculating problem with its Pentium chips, but the way it downplayed the matter and failed to anticipate consumer reaction fueled a major crisis.
IntelliQuest appears to have saved its reputation and that of the study by coming clean early.
NO CRISIS IN CONFIDENCE
"We still have great confidence in IntelliQuest," said Mr. Daly.
Mr. Daly noted that CIMS data account for about 30% of the scoring, or weight, in tech media plans at his agency.
The study is "not perfect, but no other syndicated research is," he said. "That's why there are people employed in the media department as opposed to just having computers do media plans."
It helps that IntelliQuest has a pristine reputation: The tech industry's biggest marketers and media companies rely on the market researcher.
Microsoft Corp. and Intel turned to IntelliQuest to develop CIMS; most of the top names in computer marketing and media were on board when the study embarked in 1994.
INDUSTRY LEADERS PARTICIPATE
In the third annual study released in September, participants included leading agencies with tech clients and nearly all major PC marketers, except Dell Computer Corp. and Gateway 2000.
Print subscribers include the three big publishers-Ziff-Davis Publishing Co., International Data Group and CMP Media-along with business and consumer players from McGraw-Hill Cos. and Dow Jones & Co. to Time Inc.
Two TV companies took part: Turner Broadcasting System and Comedy Central.
BRAND TECH FORUM
IntelliQuest has been a big proponent of brand-building, drawing crowds to its annual Brand Tech Forum.
Ms. Grogan stressed that-despite the problem-the study's pivotal media rankings are unchanged. The on-ly area changed is the universe of con-sumer influencers.
IntelliQuest now says there were 25 million consumers with some say in computer purchases last year, not the 18 million initially reported. This year, the researcher says, marketers need to keep tabs on some 29 million people who influence home PC purchases.
The business portion of CIMS wasn't affected. IntelliQuest estimates there are 23.5 million people in the U.S. influencing a business technology purchase in the past or next 12 months.
IntelliQuest found the "very oblique software problem" during an internal audit, Ms. Grogan said. No one apparently questioned the figure prior to IntelliQuest's disclosure, though Mr. Daly said he had thought CIMS' consumer figure was conservative.
Media veteran Ellen Freeman said she has no interest in going back to the period a decade ago when there was limited syndicated research in technology marketing. But she's careful in her use of CIMS and the other chief tech study, CompPro, from Simmons Market Research Bureau.
NUMBERS NOT FINITE, EXACT
"These are not finite, exact numbers. They're directional," said Ms. Freeman, president of Freeman Associates, a Wellesley, Mass., media buyer whose clients include America Online and Bay Networks.
IDG in recent months has argued that audits are needed for CIMS and for CompPro, a targeted study of computer professionals.
"Tremendous amounts of advertising dollars are placed as a result of these studies, so I think we should call for an audit, and every user and anybody buying this research should," said Kathy Dinneen, president of IDG Communications Research.
Computer industry watchers said IDG floated the idea of an audit after its flagship Computerworld did poorly in the CompPro study released in June.
IDG has not approached Simmons about auditing, said Ellen Romer, technical director on CompPro at Simmons. She doesn't object to an audit, except for cost, which Ms. Grogan said could run "well into the six figures."
`HOW DO WE PAY FOR IT?'
"There's an issue of how we are going to pay for it," said Ms. Romer.
"When it comes down to barebones economics, if the industry says, `Hey, Simmons, we're not going to buy CompPro unless you do this,' we're going to have to find a way to do this," she said.
But IDG appears to be a minority in pushing for an audit.
"I really don't understand that suggestion," said Elda Vale, Ziff's VP-research. "I don't see the need."