One of the best ways to assess the state of any industry is to analyze the tough questions being asked, or not being asked.
During the past few weeks, Jupiter Communications and Procter & Gamble have hosted conferences addressing the state of online advertising--an industry buzzing with debates about the tough questions.
At first glance, there seems to have been little movement on one of the enduring arguments being bandied about since I made the move from more than 15 years as an advertising executive to co-found U.S. Interactive in 1994: the need for a universal measurement standard.
Many of my advertising colleagues, frustrated by the sea of often contradictory and confusing numbers, believe we should create a single standard, the interactive industry's equivalent of consolidation in traditional media.
"Right now, there's no universal index for Web advertising," said Drew Ianni, an analyst at Jupiter Communications. "And the reason that it's hard to come up with standards is that the Web is an evolving medium--a moving target."
Many of my interactive colleagues, on the other hand, maintain that measurement tools and what exactly we're measuring are changing so quickly that setting a single standard would oversimplify the powerful metrics and stunt new innovations.
I argue that a compromise is really the best solution.
With the measurement technology changing and the customer base growing so quickly, establishing a single standard is not very realistic.
Rather, the best answer lies in creating a framework in which the numbers provided by Web site publishers, research providers such as @plan, third-party serving services such as MatchLogic, ad networks such as DoubleClick and agencies' own measurement systems can be cross-referenced to achieve a level of comparability.
In the realm of monetary systems, every country has its own currency, yet there is an established framework to compare and interpret the value of the U.S. dollar vs. the yen and so on.
On the Internet, there are so many options for measurement and tracking--some good, others better, but all of them changing. Right now, these options just don't match and mesh.
Setting up a comparability framework would allow for and achieve consolidation. While different metrics may be best suited for different online campaigns, there would always be the ability to convert and compare the results.
DoubleClick's numbers, for example, could be calculated, converted and compared to MatchLogic's or various other systems. There would always be a common context for results.
Developing this comparability framework would allow measurement technologies to continue to develop and improve while, at the same time, give agencies and advertisers the kinds of relevant and meaningful numbers they need.
Skeptics will maintain that creating such a framework will require sharing the logic behind the different systems and some may not want to share this information.
However, if the P&G conference revealed anything, it was that an open forum is possible and that interactive agencies, ad agencies and advertisers are anxious to continue talking and building an important industry.
Larry Smith is CEO of U.S. Interactive, a privately held New York-based information technology professional services agency.
Copyright September 1998, Crain Communications Inc.