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The battle of the competitive advertising intelligence services is getting, well, competitive.

Last week, Nielsen Media Research's long-in-development Monitor-Plus got its first real vote of confidence from a major agency, signing a long-term agreement with the TN Media unit of $7 billion True North Communications.

The deal is a major victory for Nielsen, which had failed to crack a single agency subscriber in the nine years it has been marketing Monitor-Plus. Indeed, a year ago, the unit was rumored to be near death, coming close but failing to win a major contract with McCann-Erickson Worldwide, New York.

Executives familiar with the McCann negotiations said Nielsen rival Competitive Media Reporting simply low-balled Nielsen's price and offered McCann a better deal for a tried-and-true service.

That's also what Joanne Burke, senior VP-worldwide media research director at New York-based TN Media, assumed would happen.

"We first started talking to Nielsen to have a negotiating ploy with CMR," she admitted. "We expected them to come in at a lower price that we could use to go back to CMR. But after a year's worth of discussion, we realized Nielsen actually has a better service."

Ms. Burke declined to disclose how much TN is paying Nielsen, but she said it's comparable to the CMR contract.

She said it's worth the price, because Nielsen has innovated two key areas-data collection and software applications-that will literally revolutionize the way the agency develops media strategies for clients.

In the data collection area, Nielsen is adding two previously unavailable sources-free-standing newspaper inserts and ads appearing on Hispanic TV networks Telemundo and Univision.

Nielsen currently has all other measured media tracked by CMR except for spot radio and consumer magazines, and is in discussions to acquire access to consumer magazine data from CMR.

Nielsen's bargaining chip is its coveted TV ratings data, which are key to CMR's ability to developing share of voice estimates for advertisers and their competitors.

But perhaps the most significant refinement in Monitor-Plus is a new software application called AD*VIEWS that enables users to program the system to automatically analyze key competitive criteria and automatically prompt the user when those criteria are met.

"You can go in and ask the computer to call you and let you know any time any brand in a category increases spending 5% or more, or any new advertiser comes into this category, or launches a new campaign, or any criteria you want to establish," Ms. Burke said.

Although CMR recently created a similar system called Ad Detector, Ms. Burke said it offers "only half the story. It only shows new creative. There are no dollars behind it, and you can't track spending fluctuations."

Combined with the promotional tracking ability of Nielsen's new FSI database, and the Hispanic media spending insights of its Spanish-language TV ad spending database, TN believes AD*VIEWS will enable its clients to begin developing media strategies based on true integrated marketing.

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