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ANALYSIS: Measurement - Down Under bid to win over web sceptics

Analysts doubt move will jumpstart web revenues, reports Susannah Petty.

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In the eyes of its creators, Australia's launch of guidelines to help the industry better measure web usage represents a leap forward in unlocking the internet's buried advertising potential.

The effort comes more than 18 months after the country's leading internet and advertising industry bodies - including the Australian Association of National Advertisers (AANA) and the Internet Industry Association (IAS) - joined forces to hammer out a common measurement system for web usage.

Their solution: one stable of central terms and definitions, creating a single language to work with the inherent complexities of the existing measurement systems.

"That's certainly what we're hoping will happen; that's why we did this, says Mr Peter Coroneous of the IAS. "It's predicated on the lack of trust in the advertising sector towards internet measurement. We thought if we, and the AANA could spearhead an initiative to get more comparability into how it all works, then that would be a good thing."

Industry analysts are less convinced. While many have embraced the development as a step forward, the question remains as to whether internet operators have left their run too late to be taken seriously.

Advertisers continue to regard the internet as a niche medium and the landscape of net ratings companies remains turbulent. In June, the sector saw further consolidation when Nielsen//NetRatings bought out Jupiter Media Metrix, leaving the industry with Nielsen, Hitwise and Red Sheriff as the main ratings operators.

Despite the shakeouts, media analyst with Fusion Strategy, Steve Allen, believes the hurdles are still too high for the internet to be a viable mainstream option for advertisers. "I don't think any change in a measurement system for any industry turns its fortunes around, Allen says.

"The fact that you swap from one system to another doesn't fundamentally change the sentiment."

He argues that the reason the local internet advertising sector has remained, at best, stagnant cannot be blamed on one single issue such as measurement.

Rather, Allen points to a range of problems such as lack of advertising creativity and commitment from clients as contributors to the industry malaise.

"It's not like conventional media, Allen says. "The ability for people to pass by your message on the internet is so much greater than with other media types.

"If you're simply running banners and buttons they'll pass you by. If advertisers don't reinvent themselves (online) they won't reach clients."

Zenith Optimedia digital advocate and media manager, Mathew Baxter, holds a similar view but is also critical of the new measurement system itself.

"If anything I think it's going to create a greater wall of confusion in the marketplace, Baxter says.

"It hasn't gone far enough. I think the longer-term intention is to take it to a point where there are tangible guidelines but at the moment it's just a dictionary.

"And it took a committee of 20 people to do that which doesn't give me much faith in their ability to do other things."

Kay Carey from the AANA acknowledges the new guidelines are not a panacea but notes that they are a sign the industry is at least confronting some key advertising concerns. "Obviously we can't predict how much of an effect it's going to have but what is really clear is advertisers have certainly been concerned about the net as an investment because they couldn't measure it and they were concerned about what they were getting, Carey says.

"I think anything that moves towards a common language, a basis of understanding, is going to move advertisers in the right direction."

With the right education process Carey believes the new system will build the momentum to drive more dollars into the sector.

"It will create a virtuous circle. The more advertisers invest, the more investment there'll be in the material that drives audiences and, consequently, the more advertisers will invest, she says.

Likewise, Mark Henning, director of sales and marketing with web use measurement company Nielsen//NetRatings, hopes the new guidelines will clear enough of the haze to enable players to move forward with other initiatives.

"Some of the messages about the internet have probably got a little bit confused and made it difficult, or perceived to make it difficult, to buy advertising on the internet, Henning says.

"While these new definitions don't necessarily stop that, it just brings the focus back."

This article was first published on Media Asia

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