Measuring digital audiences: As messy as you like

A few interesting snippets from the IAB’s Audience Measurement Leadership Forum in New York.

Yes, it’s a shocker of a conference title. But the subject matter — how to count cross-platform audiences — is important. And getting more important by the minute.

If you thought that online audience measurement was a nightmare for media owners, it’s even more of a concern for advertisers.

Here are two sets of quotes from conference speakers that seem to pull in opposite directions. They underline the fact the audience measurement headache has the potential to stunt the growth of digital advertising.

    As it currently stands, most research is just counting eyeballs right now. . . The changes coming in research will be unsettling to some as the emphasis shifts more heavily to strict ROI insights.The biggest change they’ll find: You can’t apply the same approach to cross-media that we’ve done for separate categories.

    Furthermore, syndicated cross-media measurement must fit different categories— there will be maybe six different ways, with the autos approaching from a different vantage point from packaged goods.

    — David Poltrack, chief research officer, CBS

    Most individual media forms do one or two things really well. That makes it very clear and easy for advertisers to craft a campaign.For example, if I know that TV is about reach and establishing brand, that provides focus for my message.”Direct response is about lead generation. Again, the medium lets you know beforehand what you can achieve.

    The internet can do all that and more. But saying that doesn’t help advertisers decide how they want to spend their money.

    We have a credibility and perception issue that is undermining the potential of the internet as an advertising medium. There are too many ways to track audience behavior, some contradictory.

    There’s too much data and it’s far from simple in terms of sorting out. If I’m an advertiser, I want to know what my gain and loss is if I shift my money from TV to online? We can’t really answer that.

    — Steve Wadsworth, president of the Walt Disney Internet Group

The latter quote is very much flavour of the month at the moment. Too much data. . . far from simple. . . what’s my gain and loss if I shift my advertising online?

The web might be the most measurable medium in history. But measuring audiences in practice? It’s as messy as Pete Doherty’s front room.

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