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Engagement the New Measure

Jul 18, 2005  •  Post A Comment

Major marketers are looking to change the way television and other media are measured, a move that could alter the amount they spend on commercials.

The buzzword of the moment in marketing circles to describe what they want to buy from networks and other media vendors is “engagement.” That means measuring not just how many people are watching, or who they are, but also how involved they become with the advertisement and whether it generates sales activity.

Engagement would replace gross rating points or impressions in a new era in which consumers have many choices and many ways to avoid advertising messages.

“The 21st century is the age of engagement,” said Jeff Bell, VP of Chrysler and Jeep-Chrysler Group, who was a keynote speaker at least week’s Ad:Tech conference in Chicago. Measures such as GRPs, impressions and demographics “are not good enough anymore,” he said. “We need more bang for our bucks.”

The Association of National Advertisers this week holds its second Marketing Accountability Forum in New York, and discussions of engagement and how to measure it will be on the agenda. “Engagement is emerging and that’s being kicked around now,” said Barbara Bacci Mirque, senior VP of the ANA.

During the current upfront, Court TV reached a deal with media buying giant Starcom based on engagement (TelevisionWeek, June 6). The agency’s clients are guaranteed not only that their spots on the network will be seen, but also that viewers will react to them, based on a formula that neither party would disclose.

Furthermore, CourtTV has an upfront deal with Carat USA using Carat’s Foretell research tool to measure viewer involvement.

A deal between media buying agency MediaVest and The Weather Channel examines how programming influences brand recall. The package includes a research project, underwritten by the network, to address the question of recall and “move from hypothesis to evidence,” said Jim Kite, MediaVest executive VP and director of insights, research and accountability. The deal also guarantees Weather Channel’s ad recall will be higher than the industry norm; failure to do so will result in make-goods.

The research will evaluate ad recall among cable networks across the board-both niche and broad-based-to see who floats to the top. Then, said Paul Iaffaldano, executive VP and general manager at Weather Channel, diagnostics will be developed to help the partners understand why.

Donna Speciale, president of U.S. broadcast and programming for MediaVest USA, said she will use the tool to help determine which networks get on her clients’ schedules.

Most networks have yet to embrace the notion of engagement, or being held accountable for how effective airtime is in selling a sponsor’s products. But other networks are taking a look at it. “We’re well aware of certain advertisers’ desire to see more metrics in the way of engagement than they previously had, and we’re having internal discussions on how to satiate that desire,” a CBS spokesman said.

Ad sales executives from other organizations either declined to talk about it or mocked the idea as a fad that they hope will pass. “They’ll throw it back and say, ‘Let’s talk about your creative,'” said Ray Warren, president of Carat USA.

“I don’t know what their incentive is to do that, really,” Mr. Warren said of changing from GRPs to a new basis of measurement. “You have to tell them what they’re gaining. What if the information is not good? There’s a risk there. Some people are more risk-averse.”

But change is coming.

“Collectively, everybody knows it’s going to go that way,” said Kate Sirkin, executive VP and global research director at Starcom MediaVest Group, who will be a panelist at the ANA meeting. “There’s going to be challenges in how we move from where we are today to there, and the preference will be to take control of it and not leave it to the media vendors.”

Starcom already has deals that call for engagement measures with media vendors other than Court TV, Ms. Sirkin said. She added that some networks’ online media, such as Nickelodeon’s broadband site, offer better metrics.

Ms. Sirkin noted that the current system of audience measurement through Nielsen Media Research is mostly funded by the media, although the advertisers ultimately pay for it. “This panel might be about how we think about how we can take charge of that and get what we want,” Ms. Sirkin said, “rather than the lowest common denominator.”

During the Ad:Tech conference, Ted McConnell, manager of information technology research at Procter & Gamble, said it is essential that marketers have the means to answer the question about what media does. He told the crowd of Internet marketers that the notion of customer engagement could help them grab an even bigger slice of marketing budgets. “Would you love it if the thing you do better is the way we measure all media?” he asked.

Mr. Warren agreed that a media venue that could show that it engaged consumers would be more attractive to marketers. “It used to be that money follows the eyeballs,” he said. “Now it’s going to follow the pocketbook, the wallet or the credit card.”

P&G, one of the biggest advertisers, is a key player pushing for more accountability by media. But Mr. McConnell said that even as big as it is, P&G can’t measure all media itself. “The industry needs to band together,” he said.

The World Federation of Advertisers, which includes P&G, is working on a manifesto telling media vendors what companies need in terms of measurement, he said, adding, “Engagement gives us hope.”

Technology is giving advertisers new tools to determine whether their ads are being acted upon. Digital cable boxes can provide second-by-second tuning behavior for millions of subscribers. TiVo and other DVRs can record which commercials are being skipped.

In addition to traditional recall studies, P&G is working with Nielsen and Arbitron on Project Apollo, which is designed to combine personal people meters with supermarket scanners to more closely correlate what consumers watch to what they buy. Ads that drive viewers to online purchases can also be tracked.

But at this point the industry is a long way from a standard for quantifying engagement across product categories and across media.

“How can we create it as a currency as opposed to it being a lot of one-offs? How do you start providing that kind of comparability? It’s a huge challenge,” Ms. Sirkin said.

The ANA’s Ms. Bacci Mirque doesn’t expect a Holy Grail to emerge at this week’s conference. “GE’s predictors of sales are different when they’re selling an airline engine than Procter & Gamble’s are when they’re selling Pampers,” she said.

At this point, she said, “Every organization is measuring differently. If we need a new measure for GRPs, if that’s the consensus of marketers that the existing measures aren’t that predictive of sales in today’s fragmented environment, then can the ANA help drive that?”

Ms. Sirkin isn’t sure that if the Holy Grail were to emerge, it would become widely known. “Half of me doesn’t want it to become an industry thing, for our client’s benefit,” she said.

Abbey Klaassen of Advertising Age contributed to this report.