Panelists debate double standard with print vs. search at ABC conference

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LAS VEGAS -- The 92nd annual Audit Bureau of Circulations conference at the Bellagio hotel in Las Vegas began yesterday with a panel about the growth of digital technology and its effect on the media industry.

The theme of this year's conference is accountability and rules of engagement for publishers and advertisers.

"[The digital medium] is able to provide real-time information for our site, but it also has the ability to gather too much information," said Rob Britton, managing director of brand development and advertising for American Airlines. "We have all these waves of stuff without an added value, so generating information is good, but too much becomes a liability."

Craig Sinclair, Walgreen's vice president of advertising, had another view.

"Segmentation allows you to go to who and where you want, and from my perspective that is a dream," Mr. Sinclair said. "In terms of auditing and tracking, though, we need to see more measurement on clicks."

An issue for those seeking print ad dollars traditionally has been achieving verified, accurate circulation numbers to prove robust readership. Panel moderator and Carat Americas CEO David Verklin raised a concern about double standards for online marketing results, particularly in paid search, which can have click fraud rates of nearly 25 percent.

"We look at them with an either-or proposition, but we can't have readership without circulation," said Alec Gerster, CEO of Initiative Worldwide. "We need to better relate the two components and understand the strengths and weaknesses that they each contain."

Better reporting is needed across channels, Mr. Sinclair said.

"I think that any medium you deal with, there is a lack of accountability that can be seen throughout," he said. "I think it's upon all of us to say to the media to tighten things up."

While most publishers and advertisers engage consumers across multiple mediums, each platform has its benefits and risks. Other panelists commented on the future of various mediums.

"We do continue to see that television has a good return for advertising," said Judy Vogel, U.S. director of media research and consumer insights at OMD. "There's been no decline in that medium and others have not been as strong, but it is still very specific to individual needs."

However, amid increased TiVo use, research has shown that 70 percent of viewers of recorded material fast forward through the ads.

"We have seen a tremendous drop-off with commercials when it comes to looking at the second-by-second data," Ms. Vogel said.

How do inserts fair?

"The non-paid part of circulation is a very big weakness," Mr. Sinclair said. "Multivariable testing and tracking are key."

The theme from both publisher and advertiser seemed to be consistency of brand message with an increased awareness of sharp metrics.

As magazines focus more on digital, how will agencies handle the buying of digital media and bringing the two forms together?

"I think the immediate issue is that publishers are trying to portfolio-expand their brand, which is great, but the longer-term issue is that digitization bleeds across all these channels," Mr. Gerster said.

With all this focus on accountability, can creativity even exist?

"I think that creativity is always going to be there, because synergy needs to be built from all different levels," said Darynda Jenkins, vice president and group media director at TM Advertising. "In the end, though, the biggest issue is 'did it perform?'"

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