Putting Together the Online/Offline Puzzle

NetRatings and ACNielsen U.S. this week announced the launch of Homescan Online, a new service designed to improve the effectiveness of online marketing for consumer packaged goods (CPG) marketers and Web publishers.

Homescan Online will track the habits of a 12,000-member panel, a subset of the ACNielsen Homescan consumer panel. Panelists already record their purchases by scanning them with ACNielsen’s proprietary in-home UPC code scanners. Now, their computers will run NetRatings’ metering software so that researchers can compare their Internet travels — and ad impressions — with their perambulations through the supermarket.

NetRatings provides panel-based Internet audience measurement and analysis through Nielsen//NetRatings, while ACNielsen provides the same for mass-market consumer behavior. NetRatings is majority-owned by Nielsen and VNU, Nielsen’s parent.

“Consumer packaged goods companies haven’t bee very aggressive in spending online,” said NetRatings senior vice president Manish Bhatia. “We hope that by giving them this information, they can better understand where their customers are online and how they can target them better.” The company is building tools to combine and analyze data from both the Homescan and Nielsen NetRatings platforms, and plans to sell both syndicated research and custom reports.

NetRatings expects to release its first report in January. So far, there are no official customers for the new service, but Bhatia said the sales team hopes to get slices of next year’s marketing budgets from the packaged goods giants.

It all sounds familiar. With Homescan Online, NetRatings hopes to achieve something long aspired to by Internet marketers: a solid value proposition that can siphon away a greater portion of the consumer packaged goods manufacturers’ titanic marketing budgets. The problem stems from the fact that most CPG companies don’t actually sell their products online, so there’s a need to prove that online spending pays offline dividends. According to Jupiter Research, which is owned by this site’s parent company, the segment accounts for only 4 percent of online advertising spending versus 16 percent offline.

In 1998, Procter & Gamble challenged the interactive industry to prove online ads could drive sales. The quickly-organized Future of Advertising Stakeholders (FAST) association, sponsored by P&G, began a laborious and unsuccessful attempt to standardize Web advertising and reporting, a perpetual work-in-progress now handled by the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB). In July, ACNielsen teamed with Yahoo! for a similar study combining Homescan and Yahoo! usage.

Bhatia said uniting the barcode wielding Homescan panel with NetRatings’ technology could produce the elusive insight. “There has been some survey-based research done,” he said, “but never have you had a tracking panel where you compare scanner-based with meter-based online usage.”

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