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Ad groups come to terms on Web contracts

Two industry groups agree on guidelines for ad measurement and other issues related to interactive ad contracts, but they postpone a decision on the collection of consumer data.

Two top advertising industry groups Monday issued guidelines for interactive ad contracts, the latest effort aimed at untangling the Web's marketing woes.

Issued by the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) and the American Association of Advertising Agencies (AAAA), the updated terms and conditions are meant to soothe recurring headaches felt among advertisers, agencies and Web publishers when negotiating online ad agreements. While many wrinkles were ironed out--including those related to ad measurement--issues related to consumer data collection were left on the table because of troubles finding common ground between publishers and advertisers.

"We really dug into each other's business operations and...tried to make the document reflect those business differences," said Jeff Weitzman, senior director of client services at Yahoo, an IAB member who was involved in the lengthy discussions to develop new terms and conditions.

"It's going to be something that we want to stay on top of and keep talking about, going forward."

Representatives from AOL, Walt Disney Internet Group, DoubleClick, Foote Cone & Belding, Modem Media, The Digital Edge and others participated in developing the terms and conditions, which were last updated in early 2001.

At stake is the credibility of a relatively nascent marketing medium whose ups and downs have traced the dot-com boom and bust. After years of dramatic growth, sales in interactive advertising retracted in 2001 following the dot-com downfall, causing industry leaders to scrutinize everything from Web measurement to research. Making improvements to the ad buying process has been a top priority in an effort to lure traditional advertisers back online.

This year, the IAB has issued new research on the effectiveness of Web advertising and guidelines for counting ad impressions.

Still, quibbles regularly crop up during the ad negotiating process over areas such as discrepancies in ad-delivery counts and liability in an ad campaign mix-up. The latest guidelines represent a middle ground on many previous gray areas.

For the first time, the terms and conditions address issues related to advertisements served by third parties, such as DoubleClick, or their agencies. The new rules clear up problems with tallying ads-delivered, resolving differing methods of counting used by publishers and advertisers. Web publishers typically count an ad when it's requested from the server; advertisers register an ad when it is sent to the page. The new contracts include guidelines for working through opposing ad counts if they differ by more than 10 percent, giving the agency the role as mediator.

New language in the terms and conditions also gives publishers more clarity in the event of a lawsuit. For example, new language restricts the publisher's liability if, for example, a mistake is made in delivering an ad promoting a marketer's special discount beyond the end date of the campaign.

"Although version one was a great first start, given that the industry has changed so rapidly, there were a lot of holes," said Adam Gerber, media director for the Digital Edge. "This new document plugs a number of those holes. It's much clearer for agencies and publishers as to what each of our obligations and responsibilities."

Still, he acknowledged, rights to data collected in online ad campaigns--which was in heavy dispute early on in the talks--are still being discussed and were not addressed in the latest version of the terms and conditions.

Web publishers have long used "cookies," or electronic tracking tags, to monitor visitor habits and response to advertising. Third-party ad networks and agencies do the same, creating comprehensive pictures of consumer behavior across multiple Web sites. For the first time, both sides are questioning who owns that information.

"We have decided that the data debate is a much broader discussion that needs to be addressed by all industry stakeholders and that process is now in motion," Gerber said.

He said that the IAB and the AAAA are in the process of assembling a group of industry leaders to discuss the topic.