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Reaching the Involved Viewer

Sep 29, 2003  •  Post A Comment

As audiences continue to fragment and as the number of media options continues to expand, Madison Avenue has begun embracing a new metric for targeting consumers: involvement.
Instead of raw media impressions data-the number of people who watch a TV show or read a magazine-they’ve begun focusing in on the percentage of people who are most involved in the media they consume. The approach is based on an assumption that the more involved viewers are with the shows they watch, or readers with the magazines they read, the more likely they are to be involved with the ads appearing in those media.
While the idea isn’t new, it has been growing in importance as ratings for many mass-reach vehicles decline and their advertising costs skyrocket. But recently the approach has taken on a whole new impetus as some agencies have begun advocating involvement as the base economic model for advertising.
“It started with some San Francisco agencies,” said David Verklin, CEO of mega-media shop Carat. “The concept is ROI: return on involvement.”
Agencies such as Carat had already been leading the charge in terms of developing media plans and buys around the idea of involvement, but Mr. Verklin said they hadn’t taken it to the next level-actually basing advertising performance on the metric-until they heard it being advocated by a small San Francisco agency, Red Ball Tiger.
“Essentially, it’s based on digital technology. We started with the Internet and we’re applying it to DVRs. As the digital universe gets larger it will become easier to measure advertising results on this basis,” explained Bob Ravasio, Red Ball Tiger’s managing director and partner.
He’s not alone. The American Association of Advertising Agencies and the Advertising Research Foundation have been trying to convince digital set-top manufacturers and cable system operators to share so-called clickstream data that would provide new measures of advertising and program involvement.
So far, they’ve been unsuccessful. Operators have cited consumer privacy issues or have been too focused on other parts of their business to pay the Madison Avenue initiative much mind.
Meanwhile, agencies such as Mr. Verklin’s Carat have been using surrogate measures from proprietary and syndicated research in an effort to determine how involved consumers are with various types of media.
Carat’s system, called Foretel, uses both custom consumer research and some syndicated data from Marketing Evaluations, the Long Island, N.Y.-based research company that produces the TVQ scores.
While Q scores normally are used to evaluate the familiarity and popularity of TV programs and personalities, the firm recently has begun exploiting other components of its data, which it says are a proxy for viewer involvement. These so-called Impact Q scores measure whether a show or personality is among a viewer’s favorites, and also how often he or she actually watches a show.
While the implications for planning media buys based on viewer involvement are obvious, the results sometimes are surprising.
Some of the most popular prime-time TV series, including NBC’s vaunted Thursday night schedule, are not necessarily among the most involving, while many shows not normally in high demand on Madison Avenue are.
For example, a Saturday night drama such as ABC’s “The District” is considered anathema by many media buyers, but is among the highest-scoring in terms of viewer involvement.
And while reality shows are popular, they tend to score extremely low in involvement. The one exception is CBS’s “Survivor.”
“It’s not like other reality shows. It’s more like a drama,” said Henry Schafer, executive VP of Marketing Evaluations. In fact, Mr. Schafer said, CBS’s entire Thursday night schedule, from “Survivor” through “CSI” and “Without a Trace,” has become the sweet spot for viewer involvement, making it a far stronger lineup than NBC’s Thursday night.
“If I’m an advertiser or media buyer, knowing what I know, I’d want to be on CBS that night,” Mr. Schafer said, noting that while NBC’s hits may generate higher overall Nielsen ratings, “The involved rating, if you will, is going to be a lot higher for CBS’s shows.”