OCTOBER 14, 2008
Ad Firm Tracks Consumers Across Media
Special Software in Cellphones Measures Customers' Exposure to Marketing on TV, Radio and Movies
But there haven't been many ways to measure an ad campaign across all of these media at once.
A small media research company called Integrated Media Measurement is trying to bridge that research gap with a new technology that measures consumers' exposure to the audio in ads on television, radio, computers, mobile phones, DVDs and inside a movie theatre -- using a consumer's cellphone.
NBC is among the networks using the cellphone-based data
to track how people watch shows like 'Saturday Night Live.'
"People don't know how to measure the multimedia world we live in, so any piece of the puzzle is helpful," says Brad Bortner, principal analyst at Forrester Research.
IMMI embeds its software into the cellphones of the company's 4,900 panelists. The software picks up audio from an ad or a TV show and converts it into its own digital code that is then uploaded into an IMMI database, which includes codes for media content such as TV shows, commercials, movies and songs.
IMMI's database then figures out what the cellphone was exposed to by matching the code. Cellphone conversations and background noise are filtered out by the software, IMMI says, since there is no "match" in the IMMI database.
To get a handle on the effectiveness of a given ad, IMMI's data can show, for example, when a panel member is exposed to a movie trailer on TV and whether that same consumer later goes to see the movie. Similarly, IMMI data can show if a panelist watching a promo for a TV program will later watch the show, either on TV or online. IMMI thinks it can expand that idea from films and TV shows to consumer products like shampoo or toothpaste. It is testing its technology with a national grocery store chain.
IMMI isn't the first company to attempt this kind of measurement, but past efforts were stymied by the costs of creating a large-scale panel. IMMI's use of cellphones means that consumers don't have to labor over diaries or push buttons, says Mr. Zito, who worked for years as a journalist and rock critic before launching a number of Silicon Valley start-ups since the mid-1980s.
IMMI is still a tiny company, especially compared with competitors like Nielsen Media Research. The company's 4,900-person panel has teenagers and adults in just six major markets -- New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Miami, Houston and Denver. IMMI panelists are paid $50 a month or receive free phone and data service in exchange for making the cellphone their primary phone, and carrying it with them at all times.
But the San Mateo, Calif.-company has managed to attract the attention of movie studios and broadcast networks like General Electric Co.'s NBC Universal and Walt Disney Co.'s ABC. NBC has used IMMI data to track how people watch shows like "Heroes" or big sporting events like the Beijing Olympic Games.
While the technology isn't perfect, IMMI is helping NBC answer questions about how viewers watch its programming, says Alan Wurtzel, president of research at NBC. "I'm convinced the handset will be the way we will measure media going forward," he says.
Still, IMMI is unlikely to change the way marketers develop ad campaigns. Mark Loughney, vice president of sales and strategy research at ABC, says that IMMI's panel is still too small to make long term decisions. "For now, it's a supplement, not a replacement to what we use," he says.
IMMI also doesn't measure outdoor or print ads, or Internet ads that don't use audio.
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