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Commentary: Online ads up for the count?

Discrepancies in the ways that ad impressions are counted have long divided advertisers and the media in which their advertisements are placed.

By Denise Garcia, Gartner Analyst

Discrepancies in the ways that ad impressions are counted have long divided advertisers and the media in which their advertisements are placed.

Points of debate in the online world, for example, include these: Has an ad really had the opportunity to deliver an impression before a user clicks away? How many times has online media served the ad? To how many in cached memory?

Publishers, interested in serving as many ads as possible to increase revenues, undoubtedly want different standards than do advertisers, who want to make sure that absolutely each viewer sees their ad regardless of how long it takes to load. Somewhere in the middle, advertisers and publishers must agree on a standard method for counting the impressions, rather than figuring it out case by case as they're doing now.

The key questions to ask: When do you record an impression? Should you discount the volume of pages that arise from automated searches (and if so, how)? Should you tally ads that appear on cached pages for later viewing?

The Interactive Advertising Bureau report, once it's issued, will likely resolve those questions and provide advertisers and publishers with enough ammunition so that both will claim victory.

In a fair and just online world, advertisers shouldn't have to pay for ads that viewers haven't seen. And publishers should be paid for ads seen in cached memory.

See news story:
Online ad squabble nears resolution
At first blush, the draft resolution may generally favor the advertiser rather than the publisher--especially in this soft advertising market in which the advertiser has the upper hand (that is, cash to rent vacant online space). Establishing a standard for the measurement of online ad viewers will offer a consistency that may actually help publishers, especially if the ads placed in a user's cached memory can be counted as impressions.

In an industry struggling to gain credibility with advertisers and their agencies, the forthcoming Interactive Advertising Bureau standards will at least let both advertisers and online media get back to the business of creating and selling ads, rather than counting them.

(For a related commentary on advertising on the Internet, see

Entire contents, Copyright ? 2001 Gartner, Inc. All rights reserved. The information contained herein represents Gartner's initial commentary and analysis and has been obtained from sources believed to be reliable. Positions taken are subject to change as more information becomes available and further analysis is undertaken. Gartner disclaims all warranties as to the accuracy, completeness or adequacy of the information. Gartner shall have no liability for errors, omissions or inadequacies in the information contained herein or for interpretations thereof.