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There's a battle brewing in cyberspace between companies trying to do for the Internet what Nielsen Media Research has done for TV: provide a standard, accepted source of measurement for Web traffic. The outcome could determine whether the Internet succeeds as a mass advertising medium. A standard will benefit media buyers as well as sellers, and it needs to be developed soon if the Internet is to reach its full potential as an ad medium.

Last year was significant for online advertising, with spending approaching $1 billion. More mainstream advertisers are allocating dollars to the Internet. However, they need to know where to buy ads that will give them the biggest bang for their buck -- just as they do with TV, radio and print.

For TV, that measurement source is Nielsen, despite controversies about its ratings. TV executives and advertisers look to Nielsen for accurate audience measurement reports, and know Nielsen is accredited by the Media Rating Council, a third-party auditing body. As we reported last week ("Web ratings lists make or break some ad deals," AA, April 13), there is no such accepted measurement standard for the Web. Instead, advertisers and media buyers must deal with often inconsistent information from a variety of sources: Web measurement services, third-party auditors, research companies, ad serving companies and the Web sites themselves. None of them count traffic the same way.

The online industry talks about the need for a "Nielsen of the Web," and Nielsen, in fact, will roll out its own Web measurement service this summer. But it remains to be seen if even Nielsen can deliver for the Internet what it does for TV. It faces the same obstacles as other measurement companies, such as the difficulty of recruiting business users and getting a representative sample of the universe it's measuring. The solution is to define standards for measuring Web site traffic, including recruiting methodolgy, panel representation and data collection. The Internet Advertising Bureau is a logical place for this effort to start, with cooperation from measurement companies, media sellers and buyers.

Until such a standard is achieved, the Wild West atmosphere of the Web will continue, with shootouts breaking out every time a competitor issues a new traffic report.

Forgotten 50s

For an industry that presumably specializes in making people of all ages look and feel good, personal-care product marketers have been slow on the uptake, particularly those in the beauty business.

Suffering perhaps from marketing myopia, they've focused on that broad band of 18-to-49-year-old consumers, giving the 50-plus set scant attention in terms of product and aspirational imagery.

Finally, that may be changing. Procter & Gamble Co.'s Oil of Olay created a ProVital skincare brand designed specifically with the needs of 50-plus menopausal women in mind. And (hallelujah!) the models in the ads won't be any younger than 51. Similarly, Den-Mat Corp.'s Rembrandt appropriated the universal descriptor Age Defying for a toothpaste and mouthwash aimed at consumers 40, 50, 60, 70 or even 80 years old.

Maybe the personal care industry is at last taking note of the mature- market efforts of financial services and healthcare companies -- and the payoff they have received from those efforts. Or maybe the numbers are too compelling to ignore any longer: 107 million consumers will be age 50-plus by the year 2015. So, to all personal care marketers who haven't yet had this wakeup call, the clock is ticking and not just for your aging customers. It's ticking for you, too.

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