Nielsen adds ad-tracking

With Nielsen Media Research bringing its long-famous ratings to the advertising market, new media has its biggest opportunity yet.

The Wall Street Journal reports this morning that Nielsen Media Research will begin reporting on viewership for individual TV commercials within television programs. It will shatter a variety of myths relating to the effectiveness of, and people's engagement with, advertising.

No one doubts that commercials are viewed less than the programsNo one doubts that commercials are viewed less than the programs they interrupt. they interrupt. For decades, though, it was assumed that the shows themselves forced a certain number of people to stay at the television while commercial blather flowed. With the dawn of cable and many choices, channel-surfing changed the way people spent commercial time—many just flipped channels instead of watching commercials—but Neilsen has never reported on the performance of ads.

This is big news for anyone thinking about finally breaking the stranglehold media companies have on advertising dollars. It's also a huge opportunity to show those companies you've got the chops to be their next star, because they are going to be looking for engagement, something the Web has measured better than TV from the beginning.

Neilsen is finally bringing this data to market as it addresses a wave of new media developments, from digital video recorders (DVRs) to Web advertising and podcasting. It won't succeed in measuring everything, though any gains will arm a thousand business analysts' presentations about why it makes sense to try alternatives to TV ads.

What we're going to find is that most advertising doesn't work well, that some creative ideas are killer while many of the gimmicks that inform broadcast and Web advertising are simply bankrupt.

Just wait until advertising buyers and marketers can see these facts in numbers that can be compared to and analyzed against online media. It will catalyze a transformation of all media buying, opening doors for creative people who can win and keep attention.

Most importantly, advertisers will see that launching a campaign is like launching a TV show or movie, a huge gamble on the advertising team's ability to engage people. We all know ads that grab our attention. I believe that seeing this gamble in hard numbers will encourage greater experimentation on many more smaller ideas by many in the marketing and advertising business.

Either way, as advertisers see hard numbers that show their television investments are even less accountable than they suspected, they will begin to seek new outlets at a faster pace than they have. They'll look for ways to get products into shows, including podcasts and blogs. They'll look for ways to turn enthusiastic communities into enthusiastic buyers. It means a lot of crazy things and awful, pathetic sell-outs will mark the coming history of media while we and it adjust to the reality that almost everything about marketing and advertising is broken.