Down for the Count: Audit Companies Face Tough Questions
The need for trusted auditing within Hispanic digital media is plain. It is the very cornerstone of the advertiser/publisher relationship. From the marketers’ perspective, it is essential to know that the numbers being reported are verifiable and credible in order to keep faith with their clients. From the publisher’s point of view, it is equally essential that the numbers cited by auditing companies reflect every reader viewing its pages, their demographic data, and how long they spend viewing those pages.
The demographic data put forth in the audits is vital, as certain advertisers such as alcohol and tobacco companies can only advertise on websites whose users are of legal smoking/ drinking age.
Recently, the issue of auditor voracity was raised when ComScore MediaMetrix released data that initially showed Hispanic teen online penetration to be quite low, with general market penetration for the same age range measuring considerably higher. After some questions were raised about these numbers, ComScore quickly rescinded the figures and released adjusted data. “When they released the new numbers,” says Tapestry’s Marla Skiko, “they seemed to overestimate it almost as drastically as they had initially underestimated it.”
Recently, the grumbling about audit-bureau data discrepancies has been getting louder.
Batanga’s Rick Marroquin sees the problem thusly: “From a company standpoint our biggest concern is the volatility of the data when measuring the U.S. Hispanic online audience. We see restatements of audience data which might be 70% greater or lesser month over month. It leads the websites, advertisers and agencies to lack confidence, and ultimately hinders investment.”
While there is sincere discomfort about how the auditing companies arrive at and report their figures, not everybody shares this sense of aggrievement. According to Sandra Correa, spokesperson for AOL Corporate Communications, the media company has no qualms about comScore’s data: “We use Omniture for internal tracking of our properties and comScore for external reporting,” says Correa. “The data provided by each company is consistent with one another,” adds Correa.
Eric Rayman, SVP at QuePasa says that while he was initially concerned about the demographic adjustments, he’s less so after becoming more familiar with ComScore’s methodology: “Their panels are enormous,” says Rayman. “From what I understand, ComScore monitors tens of thousands of computers. Nielsen measures only a fraction of that for their extrapolations.”
And this is what is so bewildering: the greater sample size reflecting much more volatility. As Batanga’s Rick Marroquin sees it, “You would never get this kind of turbulence with Nielsen, and their sample sizes are usually quite a bit smaller.”
Speaking to how ComScore assembles its Hispanic panel, a spokesperson at ComScore said, “ComScore has recruited a representative panel of online Hispanic users through a combination of random offline methods such as phone RDD as well as online recruitment. The identification of being Hispanic is derived through the registration process as well as through observed behavior. The tracking of these panelists is through our proprietary technology which allows us to track in real time the sites that they visit on their computer.”
While the unexplained re-adjustment of demographic data is certainly unsettling to many in the Hispanic digital media and marketing space, it is not seen as intentional: “I don’t think that any of this is deliberate. Whether it’s methodology or sample size, there is clearly an issue that needs to be addressed,” says Batanga’s Rick Marroquin. “We at Batanga want to be good corporate citizens. The last thing that we want to do is to advertise tobacco and alcohol products to minors. However, we don’t want to be unable to advertise to those in our online community who are of legal age. At the end of the day,” Marroquin concludes, “we just want to know that the data is accurate so we know where we stand, and that our marketing partners do as well.”
Regardless of intent, website owners and marketers alike are demanding accountability and explanation for the numbers being supplied by auditing companies. On April 20th, the IAB sent an open letter to both comScore and Nielsen/ Net Ratings demanding they submit to audits. Both companies responded rapidly and publicly.
ComScore disclosed that its methodologies were being reviewed by the Advertising Research Council and that it would announce the results shortly. In a letter to Portada, ComScore also revealed that it was in the process of an MRC (Media Research Council) pre-audit.
For its part, Nielsen/Media Metrix responded to the IAB’s letter by saying that it is the only internet audience measurement research company to have completed the MRC’s pre-audit, and that it was in the process of implementing a formal research plan developed in conjunction with the MRC’s Research Committee.
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