Online Reach and Frequency: What We Need Done Now

Over the past two years, my major project vis a vis industry standards has been standardization of Online Reach and Frequency tools. For more background on this, see my string of articles on MSN Advantage or, if your company is a member of the ARF, get a copy of the circulation draft of the ARF Online RF White Paper.

In my speaking and as a function of the writing, I am constantly being asked for my recommendation. The easy answer is that there is no product out there today that meets all of the needs of an agency for Online R/F. How is this possible you say? There are products out there from NetRatings (on IMS and through MediaVisor) and comScore (either direct, through Telmar, or through Atlas) and other vendors in the works. These products, while fine initial efforts in their own right, do not give us the whole picture. I'd like to point out why and what we need to do as an industry.

From a 10,000-foot level, there are four R/F applications needed in the Online world. They are a) for strategic planning (media mix), b) pre buy or planning, c) tracking while the campaign is going on, and d) post buy.



The current products give us the ability to do pre-buy and planning. And through IMS or Telmar, they give us the chance to do media mix and optimization with other media for a strategic planning view.

In most media, if you buy what you set out to buy, the post buy R/F and the pre buy R/F should be of the same magnitude and actually fairly close. Of course, in TV or radio, if your estimates do not bear out in the post, there will be some variance.

However, with online, the R/F tools that we have now are largely theoretical. It is possible for a site to put your client into a rotation that delivers much more reach or much more frequency than is originally modeled. This may not be intentional but it can happen all the same. Not enough is known at this time about how buys accumulate R/F for any buyer or seller to understand fully the implications of a buy where placements are anywhere but ROS or fixed on a home page on a reach and frequency estimate.

Which comes down to my point. We need to be able to do post analysis of our campaigns on the same basis as the pre-buy tools that we have now. That means not just uniques, impressions and frequency but with the demographics that we used in the pre-buy overlaid and parsed for US coverage only. And, while we are at it, we need to be able to track the R/F of campaign while it is running. That way, if a site sells a reach package and it is delivering mostly frequency due to a limited rotation, the buyer can go back to the site and arrange for a broader rotation to meet the goals. Same is true if the plan is achieving only reach when there is an average frequency goal deemed necessary for branding.

As the tools that are out there today only measure sites, not ads, we need to know who is going to step forward and offer a solution. Will it be from someone like Atlas who is working at overlaying their third party ad serving data with comScore research? Will someone like comScore be able to eventually track advertising with their large sample? (It is clear that the competitive media trackers do not come close enough in basic impression or spending tracking to be accurate enough for this application). Or, will a vendor like Tacoda who has a universal cookie product that they'd like to sell to the industry prevail? (BTW-this plan would also enable campaign wide frequency capping). When I talk to major vendors like DoubleClick who could potentially provide this solution, one of the limits they point to is lack of demand among their client base. Is this true? Do you out there really not care whether you deliver the reach and frequency against your demographic target that you predicted in your plan?

I'd like to know where folks weigh in on this. And if anybody else has a possible solution.

David L. Smith is President and CEO of Mediasmith, Inc.

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