AdKnowledge Tracks Cybershoppers To Test Branding Effectiveness

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AdKnowledge Inc. is expected to announce this week that it can serve up what its executives say is the beginning of something online marketers have wanted for years: hard data on how effectively businesses carry out online brand advertising.


Going beyond tracking how many people click through ads on the Web, AdKnowledge will install a cookie -- a tiny piece of software that "tags" a PC when it hits a Web site -- on individuals' computers. From there, AdKnowledge will read those individuals' cookies again when they show up at an e-commerce store to make a purchase.


In effect, the technology begins to give Internet businesses an idea of how well campaigns advertise their brand names regardless of whether consumers click through banner ads. The company will be tracking people -- without knowing their personal identity -- rather than merely counting click-throughs, according to the executive overseeing the project.


"Instead of focusing on the unit of analysis as impressions, clicks or even post-click transactions, the unit of analysis is the individual as identified by an anonymous cookie," said Steve Findley, AdKnowledge's vice president of analytic services.


All the information goes into a data warehouse operated by AdKnowledge, Palo Alto, CA. The company touts the service, called DataDNA, as the way to reach a new level of insight into brand awareness and buying behavior.


That claim isn't without its detractors. Online media placement firm WebConnect, Boca Raton, FL, provides similar services to several clients, said Jay Schwedelson, the company's corporate vice president. WebConnect tracks how many times an ad is seen and when an individual clicks on it, and the firm also can point out online buyers who saw a banner and then made a purchase later without clicking through a banner, he said.


"To be honest with you, that's not anything that any other third-party-serving organization ... can't do today. It's just using the cookie to its fullest capacity," he said. Schwedelson cited Value America, Computer Discount Warehouse and Autodesk as clients for WebConnect's service.


But AdKnowledge insists that the depth of its analysis is a first, particularly its data on individuals who never clicked through a banner ad.


"We feel pretty comfortable that we're forging ahead of where the marketplace is," said David Zinman, company founder and vice president of marketing.


AdKnowledge and similar firms run ads across various sites, ad networks and portals and then report to clients how well the ads perform across those online media. The company ran two preliminary campaigns using its new service for CBS SportsLine in the second quarter. Operating a campaign designed to track traffic to the general SportsLine site and another to gauge how people reached the site's virtual store, AdKnowledge learned that almost half of SportsLine's shoppers came to the site after viewing banners but never clicking on them.


Among other things, AdKnowledge was able to identify which sites bearing ads were visited more than once by SportsLine's traffic and how likely cybercitizens were to click through to SportsLine as the number of ads they saw increased. SportsLine asked that specific portals and Web sites carrying its banners not be identified.
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