We’re number 1 – ’cause we said so …

I got the following from Neil Ackland last week and loved it – so I’ve been hassling him to allow me to run it on Talking Digital.

Neil is MD of Sound Alliance, the company behind inthemix, fasterlouder, qjump,mess&noise and samesame as well as marketing company Thought By Them.

Sound Alliance have launched a blog and this is the lead post – you should check it out. I’ve known Neil for around 6 years now and have always liked what the SA team have done – it’s a great business and has been recognised by the industry as well as BRW as a great place to work and an innovator.

Have a read of the below.


Publishers love nothing more than touting their ‘category leader’ credentials.  Whether it’s real estate, cars, business, news or any other category, being the recognised leader almost always equals more advertising dollars.  In a highly competitive environment, it’s a simple, easy catch-cry that sales people use with agencies, who in-turn use it with clients to convince them that the site is the best recipient of the lion’s share of their spend.  And why not? It makes complete sense as a marketing message that carries weight and influences decisions.  But who polices the categories?  And what happens when a publisher just decides to make one up for their own benefit?

The acknowledged category police for online is Nielsen Netratings – and they do a good job – so it’s very disappointing to see their data being inappropriately manipulated.

At Sound Alliance, our sites have always been categorised by Nielsen Netratings correctly in music, which is a subset of broader entertainment. In the months where inthemix takes the top spot in its regular tussle with ninemsn’s musicfix, our sales team proudly beats its chest and we talk up our category leader status.  In the months we miss out we just work harder to win back the leader status.

Fairfax, who launched its self-labelled ‘Youth’ website The Vine a bit over a year ago with relative success has been categorised by Nielsen Netratings as multi-category entertainment, as it lacks a single content focus, covering news, music, fashion and tech. Netratings duplication tool gives you a fairly strong clue as to where the traffic is coming from.  Over 85% of  The Vine’s visitors also visited either the smh or The Age websites in July.  Un-surprisingly this strategy has worked with The Vine edging just ahead of our biggest site inthemix in daily unique browsers.  However according to Netratings The Vine sits at ninth in its designated category of multi-category entertainment. And ninth isn’t a sexy story.

The solution Fairfax came up with was simple.  They made up their own category and called it Youth.  By manipulating Nielsen NetRatings data from two different categories; entertainment & music into their newly imagined category, they declared themselves number one.

Youthy looking people (one even has dreadlocks!) jumping with excitement at being young


Press releases were drawn up stating that The Vine was the number one Youth website and a few media even fell for the beat up, proclaiming that “The Vine ensares [sic] Gen Y!”

The Smoking Gun


But there’s a huge problem here. Netratings doesn’t break audiences down by age. It groups sites by content type because it can’t break down audiences by age.  So Fairfax has misled the market by making up a new category and trying to attach Nielsen NetRatings credentials to it.  And boy, do their sales team love brandishing their self-proclaimed number one status!

If you’re an advertiser wanting to reach 18-29s, before you succumb to the sales hype I’d be asking whether The Vine’s traffic comes from the ‘youth’ they claim it to be and how The Vine can substantiate that claim.

Now I’m not claiming inthemix is number one in youth either because there’s no recognised, unified, third party data available to prove the claim.  I do know that the inthemix subscriber data and membership data gives us accurate, up to date demographic info for our audience – and I know that inthemix has over 175,000 members and 100,000 subscribers, a large percentage of which are in the 18-29 “youth” category.  I also know that Sound Alliance as a publisher of a range of music sites is far and away the leading Australian music publisher audited by Nielsen NetRatings.  These are all facts.

So I challenge The Vine to tell the market how they substantiate their Number one youth audience claims.  A sample size from a focus group or online survey won’t cut it either.  We want to see real, substantial data.

I like to think that we should all be on an even playing field, so making up a category and then claiming to be first in it, just isn’t cricket.

*Data used was provided using Nielsen Netratings Market Intelligence July 2009

Make sure you check the Sound Alliance Blog at – http://blog.thesoundalliance.net/


14 responses to “We’re number 1 – ’cause we said so …

  1. Very much looking forward to Fairfax’s response. Of course, they will want to answer this straight away before it does the rounds.

    May I take this opportunity to declare Time Out Sydney is No 1 in the newly created “Sydney Entertainment Guides published by Time Out” category.

  2. dudesvanyacouldtake

    Is anyone that surprised that sales people talk sh*t and cook the stats?
    Anything that any publisher has said should be investigated and never taken as gospel

  3. There is always some statistic out there that can be manipulated in a way to tell a good story. It’s so important to question the source/ sample size/ data.

    When you look at how Nielsen reports in Market Intelligence it defaults to ranking in order of avg. daily UB’s. For sites like ours that tend to do very well over the weekend. If you sort by total domestic UB’s per month it changes the order.

  4. Great Post Guys.

    I never understand the whole leader arguments that take place in the market. .

    Yes as a sales person, it’s important to know how you’re tracking vs your competitors.

    But as a planner, If you’re buying impressions on a CPM aren’t you always going to reach a finite audience anyway? (based on impressions bought). In which case buying from #1/#2 is irrelevant and shouldn’t influence your decision.

    Unless of course, you’re trying to build reach quickly or you have bought a sponsorship or something permanent on the site in which case #1 /#2 is very relevant

  5. Roger Lintzeris

    A very good point made!

  6. re: Who polices the categories?

    The ABA is the closest thing to policeman (we prefer watchdog) because earlier this year we were endorsed by the IAB, AANA, MFA, Nielsen etc, to monitor all things digital. This starts with basic things like ensuring sites aren’t double-counting (happening more than you know) through to rules around auto-refresh, tracking rich media and including site categorization. We are able to do this without bias because we are an independent, non-profit industry body.

    From September 1, sites that have passed our audit will appear in Nielsen NetRatings/MI with symbols of trust against their site names so it will be clear to media buyers that a site’s categorization and other audience claims can be trusted. In addition, any media-kits that have our stamp of approval can also be trusted.

    Publishers like Fairfax (Business), IDG and Intermedia (inc. Time Out Sydney who posted above) are leading the way here and are already audited.

    The ABA’s niche sub-categories are designed to support the local diversity of sites and are a lot more flexible in general. They enhance, not oppose the Nielsen categories. The ABA categories should reduce the need for publishers to create their own niche categories going forward.

    alexx.cass at auditbureau.org.au

  7. Haha great post.

    Good points too Robo.

  8. Mike – although I’m a small publisher and so vested in this a little, I think your point is absolutely key and needs more weight in the market.

    Even if you’re spending $50k on a campaign with a single site, at $20 CPM you’re only going to get 2.5m ads impressions. It’s most likely your $50k spend will be seen by substantially less than half a million people.

    So who cares if they reach 5 million or 10 million people?

    What does matter is how involved and engaged those people are with the content on the site; and how strong the branding experience is for the advertiser.

    More talk about this, less about absolute uniques would be healthier I think.

  9. Zac, absolutely agree. The number of times I hear a planner/buyer say something along the lines of buying a specific large network for reach is such a flawed argument – do they ever buy 100% of that stated ‘reach’ when buying on a CPM – not a chance.

    I also have a vested interest in this argument as an owner and publisher of a gr0up of targeted sites (Allure Media), and a network that leads on specific engagement metrics according to Nielsen MI – rather than something anyone’s created or inferred.

  10. talkingdigital

    i’m not defending people who buy on reach, but sometimes the argument is legitimate. If you can reach 800k ppl who are interested in x on one publisher, it makes more sense than reaching the same amount across 3 publishers.

    as that means 3 x the admin, 3 x the trafficking, 3 x the reporting … if that creates a time saving of 10-15 hours you’d have to be crazy to not do it as long as it doesn’t compromise the overall goal. right here is the conundrum the mid-tail faces … in an industry that needs to become more efficient the way it operates now goes against that.

    btw – you can buy 100% or thereabouts of the reach on a site so you’re both wrong on that front. it’s dependent on campaign times and volume but it’s far from impossible.

  11. Hey Mr Shepherd, I’d like to see a post describing the online advertising landscape in Australia if/when Fairfax and News disappear behind paywalls.

  12. Oh I love it when I find an interesting new blog 🙂 Great article Ben and thanks for the link to Nick’s new venture!

  13. This really comes down to SA loosing market share with advertisers and its audience. SA have not really had any significant change in their UB’s month on month for a year now. Other youth focussed sites on the other hand have almost doubled their UB’s in the same period. If another site is smart enough to do something a little different and win over an audience and advertisers, how can you blame them. From what I can see, they are doing something really well and when compared to other youth sites, they really are hitting some home runs. They may not be perfect, but no site really is, especially in today’s rapidly changing market. I really like both sites as they contribute something unique to a market that has had little in the way of credible places for choice and voice. Lets not get caught up in hysterical sales talk…. We know at the end of the day, the audience will make the final decision, not marketing and sales.

    Admin edit: This was posted from a Fairfax IP –


  14. Finally the Fairfax response, but a sly one!

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