Comscore Media Metrix Canada offers outlook for 2004

You name it, Brent Lowe-Bernie has probably measured it.

As the president of Comscore Media Metrx Canada and chairman of the Interactive Advertising Bureau of Canada, Lowe-Bernie works with marketers in every possible vertical to help make sense of the numbers associated with online advertising.

The services provided by Comscore are designed to help clients prove a return on their investment when they begin marketing on the Web.

“”It’s such a large area,”” he says. “”You start thinking about e-mail, Web sites, wireless. There are a lot of different capabilities.””

Comscore recently introduced a service called Audience Insite Measures (AIM), which amalgamates qualitative behavioural data about users with traditional statistics like the number of site visits and dollars spent online.  

Pipeline recently caught up with Lowe-Bernie to get a sense of how online advertising was shaping up for 2004.

Pipeline: Is AIM available in Canada yet?

Brent Lowe-Bernie: As we head into our new fiscal year, which starts in February, we’ll be looking into what components can be brought north. But it’s not available to Canada yet, no.

Pipeline: What kind of differences between the Canadian and U.S. market do you look at when you’re making that decision?

BLB: Beyond these things that are obvious in terms of how you deal with the various media and so on — one of them is the prevalence of broadband here. To the extent that people can pursue more content and spend more content online — and we know they do — how does that affect their content, their preferences? The other thing we know is that in this market we still lag on a percent of ad revenue basis and total ad dollars that are spent online. Knowing what the hot categories are now in terms of spending in Canada and what are the ones that are a little further ahead in the U.S. — those are important for us to explore in terms of product usage and how Canadians pursue information in those categories. It might be further along than the average marketer thinks.

Pipeline: There have been a couple of fairly optimistic stories coming out in the U.S. about ad spending for 2004. What do you see happening here?

BLB: I think there’s no question there’s still a lot of education to do. One is destroying some of those myths that are still out there in some marketer’s minds, that online advertising is less effective. You’re probably aware that there’s been a good deal of what I’ll call cross-media and online-only research in the U.S. that’s been compared against traditional brand metrics. I’m talking about brand awareness, intent to purchase, the types of things marketers evaluate on an ongoing basis in the offline world. The online campaigns have been measured against the same yardstick, and there is a good body of work now that shows in certain situations with certain demographics that online ads can really contribute to a campaign. We at IAB Canada have undertaken three of those studies here in Canada and you’re going to start to hear in this year about some Canadian results. I think some of that empirical proof will help.

Pipeline: I’ve heard about combinations of online and offline campaigns, but what about standalone online campaigns?

BLB: I think over the last quarter of ’03 there’s been a rise in terms of dollars being spent. People are starting to experiment and test things like big boxes. I think you’ll start to see in ’04 new people come into the market. One of the real advantages, I think, of interactive advertising is you can test new things and have results reasonably quickly. It’ll probably be based on parent companies having some success in the U.S., and Canadians have a reputation of being a little conservative and slower to the implementation of it, but you’ll see them trying things in concert with other media. I don’t think the future is necessarily all about what can online do on its own. It’s how you can complement what you’re doing offline. One of the things we consistently try to do as a company is get out to clients and talk to them about, “”Do you realize how many people are online in your category every month?”” This is a huge market, and if you ignore it, it’s at your own peril. At the very least you need to understand it. Whether you play in it is another business decision you have to make.

Pipeline: People are starting to experiment with online campaigns delivered through wireless devices with short message service (SMS). Are you starting to track the results of those efforts?

BLB: Not in our sort of standard approach. We are starting to dabble in the U.S. on a custom basis in measuring them. I think that’s the next new interactive, right? It’s all about making sure it makes sense for the brand, and the demographic you’re trying to target. I think once again, there’ll be a huge learning curve. It won’t be the silver bullet for every marketing problem. You start thinking about the ability to link these things together in the marketing kit bag, and they all have a place. If you go back a few years, I think the big faux-pas with the online was to position it as the silver bullet to every marketing problem. Well there isn’t any tool that is going to be that. I think the wireless folks have learned that, and so it’ll be a question of seeing where it fits.

Pipeline: Some people in the marketing industry think the problem has been too many metrics. We’ve gone from click-throughs, to page views to unique visitors. Has that sorted itself out?

BLB: No one metric totally encompasses everything that’s going on in the medium. That’s like saying with television that your average minute audience is the only number you should look at. It would be a pretty narrow way to look at television. Unique visitors still obviously is a prime principle — what we would call a key measure. I think with online you also have to be looking at time spent per unique visitor, because you’ve got really high reach but they’re not spending more than a couple of seconds, that’s not very good. The other sort of key metric we would ask people to look at is pages. How much content, how deep into the site are people going? Depending on what your objective is — if you’re a news and information site you want people spending more time and you want people reading more content and therefore exposed to more advertising, more messages. If you’re a bank, you may not want them spending a lot of time. You may want them moving through fairly quickly and do what they have to do. However in your mortgage section you may want them going deep. It may differ within various parts of the bank.

Pipeline: Any metrics that are still to come?

BLB: We have in the last four months launched in the online world reach frequency evaluation. So similar to the offline world, you can now pick a selection of sites and look at the reach frequency delivered against the target group. I think that that’s a big step. It’s a bridge of commonality from the online and offline world. Part of the stumbling block in my view has been way too many terms, way too much confusion, a real need to simplify. With offline media, they understand reach frequency.

Pipeline: Why do you think it’s taken this long to build that bridge?

BLB: Hindsight is always 20/20. We still have some goals as an industry that we want to hit to standardize, so that the buyers — whether they be the people in agencies or the ultimate people who are spending the money, the marketers — can understand it, get their head around it, make a decision based on something they feel more comfortable with. I think we’re starting to clear out the haze, but I think we’ve still got some more work to do.

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