Marketing Measurement Misplay: Project Apollo Is Dead

The much-hyped “Project Apollo” consumer research initiative is dead, MediaPost reports today:

“Despite a promising level of interest, we did not secure sufficient client commitments to make Project Apollo a sustainable venture for our two companies,” Arbitron and Nielsen said in a joint statement. “We are grateful to the companies, consultants and to the marketing and advertising agency executives of the seven Project Apollo Steering Committee members who helped us explore the cutting edge of media and marketing research.”

Conceived in 2004 by Arbitron and VNU (now The Nielsen Company), Apollo was meant to provide marketers with a “single-source” measurement of media and advertising, in order to show better linkage between advertising and consumer purchase behavior. Apollo had a few significant backers, notably Procter & Gamble, but the project seemed doomed from the start, considering its high cost to implement, its reliance on “portable people meter” devices, and its focus on TV, radio, and print media, with little more than lip service paid to online channels. A 2006 pilot encompassing more than 5,000 households and 11,000 people (presumably toting PPMs around their necks) apparently didn’t do enough to convince major advertisers to sign on for a commercial rollout.

As an aside, never has a “forward-looking statements” clause in a press release seemed so prescient:

This press release contains forward-looking statements within the meaning of the Private Securities Litigation Reform Act of 1995. The statements regarding Arbitron in this document that are not historical in nature, particularly those that utilize terminology such as “may,” “will,” “should,” “likely,” “expects,” “anticipates,” “estimates,” “believes” or “plans,” or comparable terminology, are forward-looking statements based on current expectations about future events, which we have derived from information currently available to us. These forward-looking statements involve known and unknown risks and uncertainties that may cause our results to be materially different from results implied in such forward-looking statements. These risks and uncertainties include, in no particular order, whether we will be able to:

  • successfully implement the rollout of our Portable People MeterTM service;
  • successfully design, recruit, and maintain PPM panels that appropriately balance research quality, panel size and operational cost;
  • successfully obtain and/or maintain Media Rating Council accreditation for our audience measurement services;
  • renew contracts with large customers as they expire;
  • successfully execute our business strategies, including entering into potential acquisition joint-venture, or other material third-party agreements;
  • effectively manage the impact, if any, of any further ownership shifts in the radio and advertising agency industries;
  • respond to rapidly changing technological needs of our customer base, including creating new proprietary software systems and new customer products and services that meet these needs in a timely manner;
  • successfully manage the impact on our business of any economic downturn generally and in the advertising market in particular; and
  • successfully manage the impact on costs of data collection due to lower respondent cooperation in surveys, privacy concerns, consumer trends, technology changes and/or government regulations.
  • successfully develop and implement technology solutions to measure multi-media and advertising in an increasingly competitive environment.

Single-source measurement is a critically important, yet critically complex, and therefore an extremely elusive goal of marketers. The millions of dollars wasted on Apollo won’t help the cause.

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