April 13, 2010

A Lesson from Jerome Kerviel to Media Buyers


Until recently I had as much interest in keeping up with new media research tools as Jerome Kerviel's bosses had in keeping up with his Societe Generale trades

(Please click on photos & links for back-stories).

My experience is in publishing and sales management, not research. Yet I find myself increasingly being brought into planning discussions with a few of our MadAveCon accounts (www.madavecon.com). Like most people watching the Societe Generale story, it's been a challenge to keep up with the pace of the investigation's disclosures, which has, in just 4 weeks, marked Jerome Kerviel from an uncommon criminal to a national French celebrity!

For better or worse, with many online media buyers today it's just the opposite. Often time's buyers go from being celebrities to media criminals, sometimes in 4 days or less, due to unrealistic expectations that marketers have about their online media buys. As a result, like Jerome Kerviel, media buyers may automatically take more aggressive positions to prove themselves, with new forms of media where they have limited information, at best.


Given the lack of interest, Societe Generale's control of its traders was lax to say the least. The same could be said for many online media research companies. In order to avoid making Societe Generale's same mistakes, I realized I had better investigate the next-gen state-of-the-art research methodologies/companies which measure site audience behaviors.

The company I was told to check out was Quantcast. Given my lack of research experience my initial take was it was an oversimplified level of "MRI meets DoubleClick." Then I looked deeper. What I found was as startling as Societe General Chairman Daniel Bouton'sreaction was to Kerviel's financial exposure. The difference though was that what I uncovered was startlingly delightful. Quantcast is census-based, not just a sample.

Another factor between Kerviel's trades and Quantcast's panel was their size. Both are huge, the difference being that the size of Jerome's trades made them quite risky, while the size of Quantcast's panel improves their reliability. As compared to Nielsen's five thousand household panel used to measure $$billions in TV advertising, Quantcast's panel is several million-large. On top of that they "see" hundreds of millions of unique cookies. It even makes Nielsen/NetRatings and comScore panel sizes pale by comparison.


Quantcast generates audience profiles; demos, affinities, etc. - not just traffic counts for unique cookies like Alexa and Compete offer. Quantcast generates profiles for online properties with as few as *1000 unique cookies* a month; ones which don't show up in any panel audience service, nor have accurate data reported about them in Compete and Alexa either.

Compete and Alexa rely on toolbar, ISP and other surfing data, but they do not capture *all* traffic data like an Omniture, or a WebTrends solution does. And the problem with the latter web analytics solutions is they are all about the "what" (click stream trend, drop-off, etc) for internal use. Not about the "who" - the audience profile, demographics, etc.

Quantcast delivers a solution that leverages the accountability of the internet by tracking real traffic/census, and leveraging that data, along with other input from their panel and social network partners, to create an interactive model that's constantly processing and generating up-to-date traffic and audience profiles.


They report audience data for over 20 million distinct web destinations. And unlike Comscore and Nielsen, they report *two* types of publishers:

Quantified - Those who have implemented the Quantcast tag. Over 20,000 publishers have done so to date, including large publishers like CBS, Fox, Cnn Money, Wordpress, Slide, IDG and others. These publishers actually represent millions of distinct destinations (Wordpress, for example, is one publisher that powers 2.1 million blogs). For these publishers, Quantcast updates traffic and audience estimates almost daily. So no delay in getting accurate information.

Non-Quantified - These are publishers who have not quantified using Quantcast's tag. For these publishers, the data they have is strictly from their panel, which is about 1.5 million households in the US. They surface this data, but clearly note on the summary page that the information is only an estimate, and that it could be improved through quantification.


More and more online media buyers and publishers believe that data for quantified publishers represents some of the most accurate data available. The traffic estimates are highly accurate. The scoop on the street is that their unique cookie counts are best-in line with publisher data.

They're moving quite fast, in a fast-paced field. They're about to roll out what they call a "unique machine" which will provide "people counts" in the near future that will address things like cookie deletion and multiple machine/person use. For someone like me, as someone who manages this site, they're making it quite tempting to test. How? Easy. Quantcast right now is free!

Quantcast provides flexible tags that allow sites to roll-up or roll-down audience profiles to the asset level. You can tag a widget or player, a page, any arbitrary grouping of these, or a whole site. If you want to generate an audience profile for a single page, section of content, sponsored area, etc, you could.

They're quite frank about the database's limitations, freely note that some audience estimates are only as good as the panel estimate. And if you don't like the service, you just pull the tags down.


A number of publishers who've been testing it tell me they're ecstatic with the numbers, which in some cases are much higher than comScore or Nielsen. That said, the numbers will NOT equal log files, as Quantcast does the due diligence of filtering out bots and spiders, etc.

So how does a site get started? Go to Quantcast, click on the get quantified link, establish your bonifides as the owner of the side. You will then be given tags to put up on the site and you'll start seeing info in the coming weeks. Their tag is simple. Just a string of code that allows them to capture optimized data that enables them to build a full audience-based representation of the internet. It'll reflect inferred audience profiles based on census-level, directly measured traffic.

The lesson here is that Quantcast enables buyers to take more aggressive positions with the newest forms of new media without the risk of going out on a limb. We'll continue to follow developments in Mr. Kerviel's case for our audience and are confident Quantcast will be doing the same for theirs.

Significantly better times lay ahead with both. As the old showbiz adage goes, there's no such thing as bad publicity.


Special thanks to Adam Gerber and Dave Smith for their help with information used in this article!

Adam Gerber is Chief Marketing Officer of Quantcast - - a new media measurement service that lets advertisers view audience reports on millions of websites and services. For more information about Quantcast, please contact Adam Gerber directly by email at agerber@quantcast.com.

David L. Smith is CEO and Founder of Mediasmith, Inc. -- a full service advertising media agency, specializing in digital media with an increasing emphasis on emerging technologies. Mediasmith is headquartered in San Francisco, California. For more information about Mediasmith, please contact Dave Smith directly by email at smith@mediasmith.com.

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