New Study Challenges Online Buying Methods

With 75 percent of Americans online today, the Internet has come of age as a reach medium, and a new report suggests that advertisers need to understand how a Web site’s audience builds over time and adjust their buys accordingly.

“Agencies should be cognizant of how their impressions are distributed over a given month and push the sites to more efficiently distribute them,” said Kathryn Koegel, director of research and industry development at DoubleClick, the New York-based online ad technology company that issued the joint study today with comScore Media Metrix of Reston, Va.

The research concluded that audience cume—always a factor in assessing reach in TV and print advertising—should be applied to the Web to balance ad delivery among heavy and light users.

Among the recommendations from the report, which analyzed the behavior of a panel of 1.5 million Web surfers over a monthlong period: Placements on high-reach areas, like portal home pages, should be complemented with buys on niche sites that have a clear audience skew and higher probability of ads actually being viewed. A short, heavy ad blast on a site that builds its audience quickly may be sufficient, whereas a longer run on a slower-building site may be required.

For online planners and buyers, audience accumulation info could supplement existing tools like reach-and-frequency measures and share-of-voice, historical-run-rate and competitive-presence data used to determine a Web buy.

“The hardest question that the media planner who’s working on an integrated campaign faces is, ‘What percentage of my budget do I put online?'” explained Brian Monahan, vp, communications director at Interpublic Group’s Universal McCann in San Francisco. “Understanding how an audience accumulates … helps you put the blocks in place for a good media plan.”

For Web publishers, whose concern has shifted from merely selling inventory to organizing, managing and optimizing it, the concepts could translate into more dollars, said Nate Elliott, an analyst at New York-based Jupiter Research. Lynn Bolger, comScore’s evp, agency development, advised publishers to “understand what your package is, put it together, sell it and move it into the marketplace, rather than constantly being in a knee-jerk response mode to the RFPs that come in.”

In today’s multi-tasking, fragmented media environment, some argue that the Web shouldn’t adopt “outdated” or “irrelevant” metrics from the offline world. “Everyone [is] rushing around and trying to fit something into their particular structures and computer models when, in essence, their computer models don’t make any sense anymore,” said Don Schulz, professor emeritus-in-service of Integrated Marketing Communications at Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism in Evanston, Ill.

But the consensus is that reach and frequency are here for the near term. As Jay Krihak, group media director at WPP Group’s The Digital Edge in New York, put it, “Unless we can come up with a better way, better technology, better methods, better forecasting, I don’t think they’re going anywhere.”