Marketers balk at price: Nielsen faces obstacles in Apollo launch

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Project Apollo-an ambitious effort to measure marketing return on investment by merging data on consumer media exposure and purchases-could be stalled on the launch pad as a seven-figure price tag keeps marketers at bay.

Four months after the plan's announcement and nearly three months after a summit of senior marketing executives in Cincinnati, partners Arbitron and VNU's ACNielsen have yet to secure commitments from marketers other than charter client and co-developer Procter & Gamble Co.

Delays in getting marketers on board could push the launch, originally planned for some time this year, into 2006, said Thom Mocarsky, VP-communications for Arbitron. "We would like a commitment up front, but the financial obligation doesn't begin until the service delivers."

Setting at least a loose deadline for commitments in a conference call with analysts last week, Arbitron President-CEO Stephen Morris said: "This is not something we are going to spend a couple of years fooling around with."

Apollo would create a panel of 30,000 consumers nationwide equipped with Arbitron's Portable People Meters to track signals from TV, radio, movie, outdoor, in-store and possibly even print advertising. Panelists would also use home scanners provided by ACNielsen to track their purchases, providing the most complete data ever on how marketing drives sales.

Apollo backers have met with about 50 "C level" executives both in a November summit hosted by P&G and individual sales calls around the country. "We've got lots of interest, but also lots of questions, which we're spending some time getting back to," said Mr. Mocarsky. Those questions come not just from package-goods marketers used to buying scanner and panel data to track sales but also from pharmaceutical, automotive, financial, restaurant and other marketers.

sticker shock

The price tag, however, is causing sticker shock, said one executive familiar with Apollo. Apollo backers want marketers to commit 0.5% of their marketing budgets to the service-amounting to $1 million or more for most.

Reluctance by even package-goods marketers to close deals does not bode well for other industries, the executive familiar with Apollo said. Though Apollo would be a substantial improvement over existing ROI tools, he said marketers can buy two dozen or more marketing-mix analyses annually for the same price.

Apollo is seeking total commitments of "considerably less" than $100 million cited by the executive, Mr. Mocarsky said, though he did not specify a number.

"We are trying to understand whether we are going to be able to get the kind of value [from Apollo] that will help us deliver better results," said Derek Gordon, VP-marketing of Clorox Co., in an interview last month. "There's a lot of value if it really delivers."

Kimberly-Clark Corp. Chairman-CEO Thomas J. Falk likewise said in an interview last month that his company is interested in but still evaluating Apollo.

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