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First Day of 4A's Media Conference Concerns Those Pesky Internet Ads

I’m here in New Orleans for the 2009 American Assoc. of Advertising Agencies Media conference, the biggest confab in the U.S. for advertising planning and buying agencies. I’ll try to “twitter” a bit, too. You can find me there by following “burthelm” or #med09.

This afternoon’s sessions at the 4A’s confirmed one thing: online ad buying is still a mess. The first talk concerned the work still underway to standardize the simplest part of online advertising: buying display ads and then insuring advertisers get the number of clicks they signed up for. Later, in a wonky panel entitled “Measuring the REAL Value of Internet Media,” (no clear answers emerged) I got up and asked whether they expected there to be a way for advertisers to buy “engagement” – shorthand for proof that web surfers are actually paying attention to internet ads.

The short answer is no.

David Smith, of Mediasmith, said that it gets too confusing because clients all have different definitions of “engagement.” He finds himself not measuring cost per click or cost per impression but what he jokingly called “costs per whatever” (GroupM CEO Irwin Gotlieb described the same reality in an earlier panel a bit more eloquently when he called his clients’ varied online requirements “unique and bespoke”). Panelist Rex Briggs responded that much of his client’s work focused on measuring the impact on sales, which is fine. But I’ve got to wonder, doesn’t that make every online marketer a direct marketer? Does it get advertisers any closer to understanding how to reliably build brands online? If the panelists or anyone else wants to weigh in here on the blog, please do.

There’s one other undercurrent I’m noticing – anxieties about a government crackdown related to data collection and web surfers’ privacy. Both Gotlieb and IAB president Randall Rothenberg went out of their way to beseech ad buyers to be very careful of consumers’ privacy when collecting web-surfing data, for fear of government regulation. “Federal and state governments are watching us extremely closely,” said Rothenberg. Gotlieb added later: “To do the job of serving our clients’ interests we have to first serve those who are concerned about privacy.”

More later.

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