Global ad data company SMI brings deeper visibility to marketers

Pippa Chambers
By Pippa Chambers | 9 October 2015

Marketers are now able to get their hands on more accurate digital advertising spend data thanks to the loosening of Standard Media Index (SMI) procedures.

The global industry standard for actual ad spend data, which sources data directly from the booking systems of the industry’s largest media agencies, says from this month it’s now possible to uncover insights about major advertiser categories’ behaviour with previously unseen granularity.

The new agreement between the global advertising data company and its agency partners means SMI will deliver digital data for 96 new product sub-categories – including mobile communications, cosmetics, and wealth management/superannuation – to its subscribers to fill large data gaps in the digital market.

All data is also exclusive to SMI, so the company will make it available directly to advertisers “that are keen for accurate data” to better understand how their digital plans compare to that of their competitive set.

SMI’s Australia/New Zealand managing director, Jane Schulze, said this is arguably one of the most “significant developments” for Australia’s digital media in recent years.

“Unlike all other media, the fact that most digital media is bought on a performance (cost per) basis means it’s been impossible to get accurate detail on spend by product category,” Schulze said.

“SMI has always provided digital ad spend data for the 37 categories that we report on across all media, but for digital we are now almost trebling the number of categories for which we have ad spend detail.’’

Schulze said the new digital detail was especially useful for the retail market where 19 new sub-categories, such as discount stores, department stores and office/hardware retailers, are now available. The travel category will now feature never-before-seen detail on digital ad spend across sub categories such as airlines, hotels/accommodation and travel agents/websites.

OMD’s chief digital officer, Stuart Bailey, said digital spend data has always been impossible to track and, as such, any competitive tracking has always been partially incomplete.

“This has gone from an irritation, when digital was a small part of the pie, to a major hindrance now that digital is a sizeable investment for most clients,” he said.

“SMI’s deeper category data will hopefully allow us a more granular insight into client category spend (it obviously won’t give it at a client level, which is the ideal). The accuracy of this data, however, will be somewhat determined by how the agencies load the data and that there is conformity.”

He said any reliable source that can further breakdown a client (or their category) digital spend profile is to be supported.

“We just need to make sure, as an industry, that the data inputted is correct and conforms to an agreed upon framework so we have consistency,” Bailey added.

Carat said SMI is used by the business predominantly for two reasons: pure market intelligence and short-term negotiations, and to a lesser extent long-term. It said it creates leads across categories and it would assume publishers use it to gauge their share in market.

It uses it to see a big picture view of the market, and then often cross-references it with Neilson data when looking at specific competitor activity.

The agency’s national head of digital, Sarah James, added: “Yes, this would fill a large gap for marketers as currently we are presented with limited options to form insight from Nielsen and Hitwise.”

Carat CEO, Simon Ryan, said the move will ensure a lot more detail in the analysis of spend data to reflect digital trends and monitor spend habits while stressing it is also crucial to see how this is impacting other mainstream media versus digital uptake.

“SMI stats are important as they represent around 60-70% of the markets’ spend which comes from media agencies,” he said.

“This change is a step forward, not a quantum leap, it’s just about getting more data so benchmarking and spend levels can be analysed to set future projections. A good thing for companies who need to know and share market analysts who look at media projections.”

Ryan added that deeper access is still needed, over time, and that it will be crucial to see how the long tail of online spend is impacting the larger digital businesses.

Analysis paralysis

James added: “Whilst sub-category data will be useful, taking it further still may end up in analysis paralysis and raising more questions than it answers – particularly if different data sets are giving us different info, which inevitably they will.”

CEO of Switch Digital, Lee Stephens, agreed that SMI is an “incredible Australian innovation”, but it is only as good as the way in which confirmed media buys are loaded into agency accounting systems.

“Digital is complex and always changing and accounting systems have difficulty reflecting the different components of a digital media schedule,” Stephens said.

“An extension to sub-category level will provide marketers with a macro view of digital spend, however, a limited understanding of the strategies being employed within digital. So, deeper access SMI data is nice to have, however is unlikely to give marketers a strategic edge within the sub-category.”

Apart from providing a new level of sub-category detail, SMI said it can also accurately report which of the sub-categories are the highest spending in key digital sectors such as social networking, exchanges and content sites.


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