FAST panel proposes measurement guidelines

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Fast guidelines released last week to count audiences and ads on the Web should help make the Internet a more accountable medium, industry executives said.

More than six months after committing to formulating the guidelines at Procter & Gamble Co.'s Future of Advertising Stakeholders summit last August, the measurement committee of the industry group released two reports March 3: guidelines to measure audiences and ad impressions. Both are available a FAST Web site that launched last week.

"I think this will go a tremendous way toward getting beyond the fundamental objection about unreliable measurement [on the Web]," said Rich LeFurgy, chairman of FAST and chairman of the Internet Advertising Bureau.


The first report attempts to provide a framework by which to measure audiences on the Web, and considers the three existing forms of audience measurement: ratings services, server logs of site traffic and third-party ad-server reports.

"The essential goal is to produce comparable measurement," said Jim Spaeth, president of the Advertising Research Foundation, one of the organizations that makes up the FAST coalition. Mr. Spaeth also is chairman of the FAST measurement committee.

"Media Metrix data ought to look close to NetRatings data," said Mr. Spaeth, referring to Web audience ratings competitors, "and AdForce data ought to look close to MatchLogic data," referring to ad-serving competitors.


Industry players agreed that trying to achieve comparable data would be good for Internet advertising.

"We believe that [comparable data] should go a long way to make it easier for companies like Media Metrix to track ad banners and ad campaigns," said Mary Ann Packo, president of Media Metrix.

Audience measurement guidelines call for common definitions and standards to make data comparable and propose an "opportunity-to-see" measure that would "provide a reasonable expectation" for a marketer that a user could see the content and the ad being delivered.

"The fundamental breakthrough in this guideline is the focus on the consumer," said Mr. LeFurgy. "In traditional media, we all know the consumer is king. It has taken the Internet a little longer to get beyond the distraction of the technology to remember who pays the bills."


The second guideline proposes specific methodology to count ad impressions served, which is based on MatchLogic's TrueCount software to count ads cached on proxy servers, said executives involved in the guideline formation.

"This standard is TrueCount for all intents and purposes," said Mike Griffiths, chief technology officer and VP-engineering for MatchLogic, Westminster, Colo., acquired by Excite last year.

MatchLogic worked with other ad-serving companies, such as NetGravity, in adapting TrueCount into a more generic standard that the industry can use. Already, NetGravity has agreed to support TrueCount in its ad-serving software, and MatchLogic is now talking to other ad-serving companies about doing the same.

MatchLogic also said it would waive any lawsuits and claims involving patent infringement for those companies using the methodology as long as they are following the guidelines, said Mr. Griffiths.

However, Mr. Griffiths said a bigger issue for the industry is company cache policies that make it harder to count ads. Many companies cache content, or store it on their servers, then distribute it to users to speed download times.

"Do I count better and force pages to get loaded each time, or do I provide a better user experience and not count as well as I could?" said Mr. Griffiths.

Copyright March 1999, Crain Communications Inc.

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