ROI Measurement Still Falls Short

Jan 31, 2005  •  Post A Comment

Looking to measure your return on investment on your branded entertainment deal? Better wait a while.

“We are pretty far off,” said Robert Riesenberg, president and CEO of Full Circle Entertainment. “We are light years away,” said Marc Goldstein, president and CEO of MindShare North America.

Both men made their comments during a panel session called “Branded Entertainment: The 411 on ROI” at the National Association of Television Program Executives conference in Las Vegas last Tuesday. Later in the day a NATPE panel session called “Follow the Money!” also touched on branded entertainment and measurement.

Executives on both panels came to one conclusion: No two branded entertainment deals are the same, and that makes it impossible to use standard rating measurement or ROI tools for comparison.

In the first session, Rick Frank, chairman of The Firm, a music management and branded entertainment agency, said entertainment deals should have a standard measuring system. “We need it,” he said.

In the past, product placement, the forerunner of the term “branded entertainment,” was the domain of TV and film producers, who would have the final say on these decisions. Though producers are key when it comes to creatively inserting a product into a story line, they increasingly share decision-making with media agency executives and TV advertising sales executives.

“It is more art than science,” Mr. Frank said. “[Producers] don’t feel it has to be exactly measured. It comes out of their gut.”

The panelists agreed that ROI for branded entertainment shouldn’t be measured in a vacuum. “It does have to be looked at as part of a whole [media plan],” said Mr. Frank, echoing a sentiment the ad business has sympathized with for some time: the “holistic approach” to media measurement.

But how to get that is another matter.

“To say that we’ll have a currency-it’s not something we’ll be able to do,” said Stacey Lynn Koerner, executive VP and director of global research integration at Initiative Media. “Brands are different.”

Panelists remarked that the effectiveness of branded entertainment even within one show, such as the NBC hit “The Apprentice,” varies from deal to deal.

Even though measuring companies, such as Nielsen Media Research, IAG, iTVX and others, have developed measurement tools for branded entertainment, there is no consensus among media agency executives regarding what attributes these tools should have.

Tom Mazza, president of Madison Road Entertainment, a branded entertainment agency, said the focus shouldn’t be on measuring the medium but on measuring the message. That is in line with the attitude of other executives, who seek to get beyond program ratings to commercial ratings-or even branded entertainment ratings.

When it comes to measurement, Mr. Frank said, brands still look to the 30-second spot as a barometer in pricing branded entertainment deals. “I can tell you that when you talk to brands, they talk about the relative value of a 30-second commercial,” he said. “It’s just a way to get a handle on it.”

But the mere association of a time element has some executives up in arms. Media executives say it’s antithetical to what branded entertainment is about-which is, more than ratings, the environment of a TV show. “We are advancing the story. It’s about good storytelling,” Mr. Mazza said.

“If we start counting seconds on the screen, this will be very dangerous,” Mr. Riesenberg said. Even without these numbers, Mr. Riesenberg said, media agencies are still accountable for branded entertainment decisions.

In the “Follow the Money!” panel, which addressed the bigger picture of TV advertising, executives also alluded to the instinctual approach to determine the efficacy of branded entertainment. Panelist Peggy Green, president of broadcast for Zenith Media Services USA, said, “Sometimes you go with your intuition.”

Fellow panelist Jon Mandel, chairman of MediaCom U.S., retorted: “Find a client that has the balls to use their intuition.”

Advertising executives say many TV advertisers won’t take a flier on any branded entertainment deal without some research that they can use as a basis on which to predict results.

“We buy tomorrow’s media on yesterday’s numbers,” Mr. Mandel said.

Debbie Myers, VP of media services at Taco Bell, who spoke on the second advertising panel, said major advertisers must be accountable for their media spending. “We have shareholders and we have to be accountable for driving sales,” she said.

Ms. Myers offered up a recent example of a good return on media investment. Taco Bell ran two spots during the NFL’s AFC Championship Game. As a result, over that weekend, “We were up 14 percent in sales,” she said. “We saw a spike that normally we don’t see this time of year.”

In the branded entertainment arena, similar results occurred with Burger King, Mr. Goldstein said. Some weeks ago, his agency, MindShare, put together an episode-long product integration deal with “The Apprentice” that touted Burger King’s new Western Angus Steak Burger.

Mr. Goldstein characterized the deal as a big success. Branded entertainment deals deliver results in many ways, he said, such as driving people to a Web site, fostering a point of view for Wall Street or even boosting company morale.

Another problem in getting ROI: Developing measuring tools for branded entertainment may not be everyone’s top priority, especially at overworked media agencies where virtually all media work and concerns still lie with traditional media.

“Everybody still has their day job,” Ms. Koerner said. “There is a lot to do just to keep the business moving.”

Executives whose only focus is on branded entertainment have another point of view: “This is absolutely a growth business,” Mr. Mazza said. Mr. Frank said a number of breakthrough deals will help that growth, including the Burger King/”Apprentice” deal.

Session panelists also had general thoughts on the branded entertainment business, some that might put a damper on potential deals.

For instance, Mr. Mandel noted the just-launched third season of “The Apprentice” has experienced lower ratings than the first two editions. Research from his agency found that viewers were turned off because “It’s so commercialized.”

Branded entertainment deals were rushed to market over the past couple of years because advertisers have been concerned about the negative effects that digital video recorders, which allow viewers to skip commercials, could have on their media buys.

But Mr. Mandel pointed out that commercial skipping by TV viewers isn’t a new activity. Since the early ’90s, 98 percent of TV viewers have had remote controls enabling them to skip commercials by changing channels.

Playing down the DVR threat, Mr. Goldstein said DVRs are only in a minuscule 1 percent of U.S. TV households. That means advertisers don’t need to rush into branded entertainment-especially when some attempts rub viewers the wrong way.

“Sometimes these deals are irritating to the audience,” he said.