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Project Apollo: Old Media is Watching

2 April 2007

Project ApolloProject Apollo is a cross-platform analytics program being developed by Proctor & Gamble with Arbitron and Nielsen that will track all aspects of customers’ advertising consumption and product purchasing behavior. Apollo is the response to mainstream media’s difficulty tracking advertising effectiveness in an increasingly fragmented world of podcasts, satellite TV, time-shifted content, and decentralized user-generated media.While no doubt useful to large advertisers, the almost omniscient level of data delivered by Apollo is concerning and has considerable privacy implications should its use ever become widespread.

Project Apollo aims to provide “a day in the life” of an average media user.

” Here’s an example of what Project Apollo might capture and aggregate in “a day in the life” of a health conscious, Visa- and MasterCard-toting married woman, age 41, with a 13-year-old daughter who lives a hectic life, eats out four to six times a week and places a premium on convenience. Our Mom hears a drive-time radio commercial for McDonald’s in the morning and swings by for a late lunch with her daughter the same day.

While watching television with the family that evening, a commercial for the Navigator airs, prompting a weekend visit to the Lincoln showroom by our couple the following Saturday. With Apollo, the connection from exposure to action will be clear, direct and measurable, informed by a robust collection of rich consumer profiles contributed by panel members.”

Note that all of the media sources listed are broadcast sources. Collecting accurate data from this many distinct broadcast sources is next to impossible using current technology. How do you track in-car radio use? What about the TV ad that was playing in the doctor’s waiting room? These sources don’t lend themselves to the click-path tracking that’s so effective on the web.

To get around this Arbitron has developed a new piece of audio-tracking hardware that they’re calling the “Portable People Meter“. A PPM is provided every person subscribed to Project Apollo, and functions much in the same way Nielsen set-top boxes have been used for decades to track TV usage. The PPM however is a small pager-sized device that users take with them and it tracks media use by recording special non-audible signals inserted into broadcasts.

“The passive device automatically records the wearer’s exposure to any medium that has inserted an inaudible code into its audio programming using an Arbitron PPM encoder. When a unique, inaudible code is detected, the PPM registers, records and time-stamps the signal. At day’s end, the media history is downloaded by a docking station that simultaneously recharges the PPM unit.

Portability ensures that all exposures register, from conventional broadcast media to in-store vehicles, from entertainment venues to streaming media, from video games to the Internet.”

From a techie standpoint I’m fascinated with the amount of data Project Apollo will provide to marketers and being involved in several podcast/videocast productions I’m excited about the ROI level tracking Apollo will bring to this type of media. As a privacy conscious media user however, the Big Brother connotations of a nearly omniscient consumer tracking program is pretty worrying and I can’t help wondering how long it will be before profiling technology like this is put to other more nefarious uses.

Initial tests of Project Apollo have already been completed and Arbitron and Nielsen will announce whether or not they will pursue full commercial development sometime in mid 2007.


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  1. on April 11th, 2007 at 4:18 pm

    [...] Project Apollo: Old Media is Watching (tags: media statistics axl projectapollo nielsen arbitron audiencemeasurement) [...]

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