Walmart Pulls Out of Nielsen's PRISM

Company Says Retailer's Decision Will Not Affect Launch of Data Service

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BATAVIA, Ohio ( -- Walmart has pulled out of Nielsen's PRISM, a syndicated-data service that tracks the audience and effectiveness of in-store advertising and merchandising, dealing a blow to a widely lauded initiative that aims to put shopper marketing on par with other consumer media by giving it a similar measurement system.

Nielsen says Walmart's decision to pull out of PRISM 'does not impact our launch.'
Nielsen says Walmart's decision to pull out of PRISM 'does not impact our launch.'
In a statement, Nielsen Co. said that "Walmart was pleased with the insights they gleaned" from the PRISM pilot but decided not to participate in the national syndicated service "consistent with their internal data-sharing policies." To participate in the pilot, Walmart last year partially lifted a ban that had been in place since 2001 on sharing sales data with syndicators such as Nielsen and Information Resources Inc.

Nielsen said it continues to make "great progress" toward its 2009 launch of PRISM, and that 15 of the 16 original retailers in the PRISM consortium, including Target, Kmart, Kroger and Walgreens, are still on board. Nielsen said original marketer and agency backers of PRISM continue to support the initiative, too, including Procter & Gamble Co., Unilever and Kraft Foods.

"Walmart's decision does not impact our launch," a Nielsen spokeswoman said in an e-mail. Walmart did not comment by press time.

Questions raised
But Walmart accounts for more than half the sales of all other food, drug and mass-merchandise retailers combined in many package-goods categories. So the pullout raises questions for some about the future of PRISM, a cornerstone of Nielsen In-Store. The service is lauded by CEO David Calhoun as the strongest example to date of the research giant's effort to become more than the sum of its parts by creating new services that draw upon its strengths in media measurement, retail data and analytics.

PRISM, which stands for Pioneering Research for an In-Store Metric, has been heavily touted since 2006, when P&G, Walmart, Starcom MediaVest Group and the In-Store Marketing Institute began the project and were later joined by Nielsen.

In a speech to the Consumer Analyst Group of New York in February, P&G Chairman-CEO A.G. Lafley said PRISM "will transform how we think about in-store consumer communication and behavior" by showing what shoppers had the opportunity to see and which in-store programs work best.

Filling a void
In its statement, Nielsen quoted Ann Mooney, associate marketing director at P&G, saying the company remains optimistic PRISM will continue, adding that the service would "fill a void that has existed at retail and would add a valuable tool for us to make more informed choices across our marketing mix."

But an executive for another marketer and PRISM consortium member, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said the Walmart pullout is "definitely going to put a crimp in things," and expressed doubts about whether the service will expand beyond pilot. He likened it to Apollo, another ambitious media-measurement project that aimed to track exposure to a variety of media as well as impact on purchases through a single consumer panel. Nielsen and Arbitron pulled the plug on Apollo earlier this year, after spending more than $45 million combined to develop the service, when they couldn't get enough marketers to subscribe.

As with Apollo, the cost of PRISM data, which the executive said ranges from the low- to mid-six figures annually (up to seven figures for bigger marketers), is particularly daunting in the current economy. While it pales in comparison to media or trade-promotion budgets, he said PRISM's cost is huge for syndicated market research.

The executive said PRISM delves into a level of detail steps beyond what many marketers are still trying to accomplish in-store, such as simply ensuring trade funds actually get used for marketing and merchandising rather than pocketed by retailers or that programs get executed as designed. He's also concerned PRISM would result in more money shifting from media advertising to trade promotion, which could weaken brands to the benefit of retailers and private labels.

"It was interesting at first," he said. "But when you poke at it a little more, it gets a little less interesting."

In an online survey today by the website, 49% of respondents said Walmart's pullout would affect the value of PRISM significantly, and 35% said the impact would be moderate, compared with 13% who said the pullout would have a small or no impact.

For its part, Walmart is incorporating its own service to measure shopper-marketing return on investment -- DS-IQ -- into the rollout of its Smart Network, a next-generation in-store TV network to be operated by Thomson's Premier Retail Networks in 2,700 stores on 27,000 screens by early 2010.

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