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International: Web site affinity and online ad impact. Study suggests new ways to evaluate audiences

28-October-2002
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International: Web site affinity and online ad impact. Study suggests new ways to evaluate audiences

Confirming what many long sensed, a study has found that online consumers who feel an affinity for a Web site's content are much more predisposed to notice and be affected by that Web site's ads.

The implications of the finding are that Web sites that draw high-affinity audiences offer more fertile ground for the same advertisements than Web sites whose audiences are low-affinity users. "Affinity" in this context refers to a sense of strong personal connection and ongoing engagement with the content of particular sites.

The study, conducted by comScore Networks, Millward Brown Intelliquest and the Online Publishers Association, polled approximately 5,000 Internet users culled from comScore's panel of 1.5 million, and tested variables to create an affinity index. A little more than half of the survey sample were labeled high-affinity users due to their online behavior.

The findings further suggest that it may be more important for marketers to make online ad placement judgments based on the rate or concentration of audience loyalty, rather than on gross traffic statistics.

"There's been a long-standing belief that the degree to which people feel affinity toward a media property influences the way they feel about advertising on that media property, but this is the first study to our knowledge that proves [and quantifies] that high-affinity audiences are the most valuable to advertisers," said Michael Zimbalist, executive director, OPA.

The study found that the three most influential factors in the creation and enhancement of a users' affinity for a site are word-of-mouth, satisfaction with content, and favorite status within an interest category such as news, sports, finance, special interests or hobbies.

The level of the users' sense of trust in the content of a specific site was found to impact their perception about how intrusive the site's online ads were. The survey found that 75% of high-affinity users felt that ads interfered less with their experience of accessing content, compared to 31% of low-affinity users.

In other key findings, only 22% of low-affinity consumers believe that brands they see advertised are relevant, compared to 68% of high-affinity users.

Conducted over a six-week period ended in early September, the study focused on consumer experiences and habits on nearly 30 Web sites including OPA member sites such as WashingtonPost.com and USAToday.com, along with AOL Time Warner's AOL and Yahoo!. Microsoft Corp.'s MSN was not part of the study.

Some 82% of high-affinity users across all the Web sites agreed that the sites for which they feel an affinity carry advertising of high-quality products and services. Only 36% of low-affinity users have that experience. Not surprisingly, high-affinity consumers read and notice online ads more, 63% and 55%, respectively, compared with 30% and 25% of low-affinity users.

P&G drops Grey shop; decentralizes web buying; Individual brands will now call own Media Shots

Procter & Gamble Co. is dropping Grey Global Group's Beyond Interactive, New York, as interactive media-buying agency of record, effective next month, as it decentralizes online marketing efforts.

The move comes as one of P&G's top interactive-marketing executives, Doug Milne, director of its SmartWorks targeted-marketing unit, left last week for a new marketing post at Masterfoods USA. Mr. Milne won't be replaced, a P&G spokeswoman said. Instead, SmartWorks marketing specialists who reported to him will now now work with Lisa Hillenbrand, who oversees other corporate-marketing functions, and report to Willie Alvarado, who heads the SmartWorks unit.

Milne said his departure was prompted by a new opportunity, not by P&G's decentralization. Interactive and direct marketing "needs to be run out of the brand groups for them ultimately to be a success," he said, adding that P&G "doesn't need flag wavers to keep it going."

The shifts signal that P&G, which once led the push to set the ground rules for interactive marketing by hosting the 1998 Future of Advertising Stakeholders conference, is now letting its brands develop their own strategies.

"Beyond has done a superb job for P&G," the spokeswoman said. "But we've decided to decentralize our interactive-media buying to allow our brands to be more effective at creating holistic media plans."

Beyond will continue to handle media planning and buying for some individual brands.

P&G brands and business units with the biggest online-marketing programs, such as Pampers, Tide and Cover Girl, generally have their own marketing or information-technology staffers running them.

An executive familiar with the company's interactive marketing said excess online ad inventory was piling up, in some cases under centralized buying, and that pooling interactive buys still didn't make P&G a major player in the medium.

While P&G is the No. 2 media advertiser in the U.S., it's not among the top 10 online advertisers. P&G spent $10.9 million in 2001 on Internet ads, according to Taylor Nelson Sofres' CMR, up 5% from 2000.

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