Joins P&G and SCJohnson in Landmark Apollo Marketing Measurement Project

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CINCINNATI (AdAge.com) -- Project Apollo has added another major advertiser, Unilever, to the pilot for its Portable People Meter-based marketing measurement system, clearing a major hurdle a year after sticker shock threatened to scuttle the ambitious project.
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Unilever joins charter participant Procter & Gamble Co., SCJohnson and three additional unnamed marketers in participating in the test, which launches later this year. The 6,250 households participating have agreed to carry Arbitron's Portable People Meters to measure media exposure and use home scanners to record their purchases as part of VNU's ACNielsen Homescan panel in a joint venture between the research firms.

Working out what works
Participating households, comprising more than 14,000 individual participants, are being paid to carry the small, cellphone-size PPMs to collect their exposure to electronic media sources, including TV, network radio and other audio-based commercials, including those in cinema ads and streaming audio and video from the Internet. Their exposure to other media, including newspapers, magazines and circulars, will be measured using surveys, Apollo backers said in a statement.

An Arbitron spokeswoman declined to identify the three additional participants beyond P&G, Unilever and SCJ. But the company said the six participating marketers represent $6.2 billion in measured media spending. The three named participants represent about $4 billion of that total, with P&G alone accounting for $2.7 billion.

Maximizing $6.2B in spending
"Maximizing the value of our investments is critical to Unilever, and we anticipate that Project Apollo will help us better understand the complex dynamics of consumer behavior," said Noreen Simmons, director-strategic media planning for Unilever U.S.

The promise of combining media exposure with purchase data long has been a holy grail of market research for decades, but has foundered in the past because the high costs have exceeded what marketers are willing to pay.

Sticker shock
It appeared that Apollo, first announced in September 2004, might fall victim to the same problem. Arbitron and VNU couldn't initially sign any marketers besides P&G, despite a major sales effort that included a meeting with about 50 marketers at P&G's Cincinnati headquarters and sales calls with executives from all three companies.

The sticking point was a charge of 0.5% of the marketing budget of participants, amounting to seven figures for many marketers, in the original proposals for the full-scale project, which originally was to include 30,000 households.

Scaling back
So Arbitron last year said it would scale back the panel size and the cost.

The tradeoff is that the smaller panel makes the data usable for fewer marketers. Because impact from any given ad or marketing vehicle tends to be relatively small, a 6,250-member panel may provide data useable only for the biggest brands used by a substantial portion of U.S. consumers, said Mike Hess, director-global research and consumer insights, of Omnicom Group's OMD and a veteran of a similarly ambitious single-source initiative from the late 1980s.

P&G, Unilever and SCJ have such brands as Tide, Dove and Windex that are big enough to get useful data from such a small panel, but many other marketers don't, he said.

But he believes the goal of the pilot is to develop "proof-of-concept" research cases that can persuade a larger number of marketers of Apollo's value. If successful, those arguments could lead to broader participation and enough revenue to support the original 30,000-household vision for Apollo.

Is mix modeling delivering?
Without the sort of data promised by Apollo, growing numbers of marketers are instead relying on the best available system to measure marketing return on investment -– marketing-mix modeling.

"Marketing-mix modeling could be a good thing and ubiquitous, but growing participation in Apollo may be a sign that it's not delivering everything marketers want," Mr. Hess said. Specifically, Apollo can measure how and which ads affect particular consumer segments to allow more effective targeting, which is a high priority for many marketers.

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