Online media tools advance

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When it comes to buying online media, there are a few standard services that every good buyer knows and uses: Jupiter Media Metrix, Nielsen/NetRatings, @Plan and AdKnowledge.

Over the years, agency media buyers have come to rely on these tools to provide the essential data on site traffic and demographics that form the basis of an online ad plan. But now, as Internet media buying becomes more targeted, and as the need to show return on investment becomes more crucial, buyers are turning to new tools as well as existing ones. These tools allow them to do everything from optimizing campaigns on the fly to building historical databases of what types of ads on what sites reached what type of consumers.

While traffic and demographic tools provide good directional guidance, "they don't speak to how my customers are interacting with my ad, and what their demographics are," says Maggie Boyer, VP-media at Avenue A, Seattle. "For true insights into my actual customer base, or [how they are] interacting with my ads, campaign data is going to be much more accurate."

In many cases, agencies themselves are coming up with tools to analyze such data instead of relying on outside suppliers. Avenue A, for example, in April spun off its technology division into a new operating unit, Atlas DMT. It hopes to sell its proprietary software for managing media planning and buying to other ad agencies and to marketers.

OgilvyOne, New York, the marketing-services arm of WPP Group's Ogilvy & Mather, is developing several tools for online media planning and buying, and may consider marketing them as well, says Gerard Broussard, senior partner and director of media analytics. One tool, now being prototyped, would help media planners model an optimal online media schedule based on historical data and ad response.

"There was nothing out there that satisfied that need," says Mr. Broussard. "You need to have a tool from the get-go where you can say, gee, over a six- or eight- or 10-week period, here's how much advertising I think should take place on these sites."

The need for such new tools is obvious. Online advertising is in the doldrums. Sales are slowing, prices are falling and results are often mediocre. The average click-through rate for online advertising was 0.49% in May, according to Nielsen/NetRatings. Proving the viability of the medium to reluctant advertisers takes more than placing a few ads on the top 50 Web properties.

What works better, says Forrester Research senior analyst Jim Nail, is advertising that reaches consumers who are directly engaged in a relevant activity. In other words, advertising that not only reaches consumers in the right demographic, but when they are most in the mood to receive an ad.

There's another trend that's contributing to this rise in new tools. Traffic patterns at various sites, and the demographics of site visitors, are leveling out. Some buyers say that lessens their need for services that provide audience ratings and demographics.

That said, a significant number of marketers still rely heavily on the ratings services. Forrester reports that 74% of marketers it surveyed choose sites based on their audience demographics. But when queried about the most effective way to reach their target audience online, almost three times as many marketers (50% vs. 17%) chose targeting consumers when they're researching purchases than chose demographic targeting.

"You shouldn't be making a decision based on whether a site has [a certain rating from] Media Metrix or NetRatings," says Nick Pahade, VP-managing director of Grey Global Group's Beyond Interactive, New York. "There's a lot of people that are still doing that."

Some companies have taken steps to give media buyers more advanced tools. DoubleClick in April launched Diameter, offering media-intelligence, audience-measurement and advertising-effectiveness services. Diameter incorporates many of the tools developed by research company @Plan, which DoubleClick acquired earlier this year.

A company called Mediaplex automatically customizes advertising by linking to business data in real time. Two other companies, Paramark and HotSocket, can optimize ad campaigns in real time.

Some interactive agencies have chosen not to use these tools, however, instead using systems that they have developed in-house. Beyond Interactive, for instance, has its own proprietary tools for optimization and for sending out requests for proposal, or RFPs, says Mr. Pahade.

What's still needed, buyers say, are better tools to compare Internet media with other media.

"These models are still primarily based around Web-based activities" says Eric Valk-Peterson, VP-media services at I-traffic, New York, an Agency.com company.

A tool enabling buyers to measure and compare online and offline media is on the wish list of Mark Stephens, director of media services at Lot21, San Francisco.

"You've got to understand what you're getting from print and what you're getting from interactive and what the trade-offs are," he says.

One logical source would be Nielsen/NetRatings, which recently launched a service called AdSpectrum. The service provides online ad spending data and eventually hopes to link it with offline data from Nielsen Media Research's Monitor Plus ad data. But a spokeswoman will only say that linkage will happen "in the future."

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