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Ad Groups Take Another Whack At Measurement Standards

A triumvirate of ad trade groups is developing more detailed guidelines for interactive advertising campaign measurement. The IAB, which led in issuing the guidelines nearly two years ago, is part of the group.

Partners also include the American Association of Advertising Agencies (AAAA) and the Media Ratings Council (MRC). They're picking up where a similar coalition left off after issuing guidelines in January, 2002. The aim is to develop consistent industry definitions, establish an MRC-regulated audit process, and persuade companies to comply.

It's been a while since the first guidelines were issued, and there's no timetable on when this next version might be released. Instead of a firm date, the groups promise the industry "periodic status updates." Until then, the current guidelines remain in effect.

"By developing guidelines for measurement, we are offering... accuracy and reliability, which is a critical component in evaluating the effectiveness and efficiency of an advertising medium," said Greg Stuart, president and CEO of the IAB, in a statement. Stuart couldn't be reached for comment prior to publication time.

On the groups' to-do list is crafting one of the most controversial, yet apparently simple, definitions: what's an impression? This definition has dogged the online ad industry from day one because of differences in the ways publisher-side ad servers, third-party ad servers, and server logs track online ad delivery.

When the IAB released the first campaign measurement guidelines, it declined to specify a single recommended method for measuring an impression, instead endorsing two methods. This time, the organizations say, they'll "establish a consistent definition of how to count an ad impression."

It's an important distinction for CPM advertisers and publishers. Both make deals based on the number of impressions served. Currently, advertisers, agencies and publishers endure a reconciliation process to deal with impression reporting discrepancies. Some are satisfied with the status quo, but those working on the guidelines say it should be better.

"If we can improve the transaction and reduce the cost of reconciliation it's beneficial to the entire industry," said Scott Spencer, DoubleClick's director of product management for publisher services, who sits on the IAB measurement committee.

As in the first go-round for measurement standards the IAB is partnering with other ad industry groups to set the guidelines. The AAAA and MRC are again involved. The Advertising Research Foundation (ARF) and the Association of National Advertisers (ANA), both part of the initial effort, bowed out this time. Neither the ARF or the ANA responded to inquiries prior to publication time.