TV Research: Players Are Setting Rules of Engagement

Aug 22, 2005  •  Post A Comment

While advertisers are looking to engagement to figure out if their marketing dollars are well spent, research companies are looking at engagement and trying to figure out how much money they can make.

“Engagement” is the marketing and media world’s current buzzword in the never-ending effort to measure how much impact an advertisement has on the consumer. To work, not only must an ad be delivered to the proper target audience but viewers must see it. On top of that, marketers want to know their ad has caused some sort of positive reaction.

At the same time many in the field would be thrilled if there were a way to measure engagement that was consistent across all media so they could compare the value of the dollars they spend in a traditional medium like television with a shiny new medium like the Internet.

There could be big money in the field for the research company that manages to collect the right data and crunch it in a way that is reasonably digestible.

“I expect we’ll see the people who are in the business now definitely aggressively looking to be part of the providership of this, because if they can do it without huge additional incurred costs, it becomes another stream of revenue,” said Bill Cook, senior VP of research and standards at the Advertising Research Foundation.

At this point an industrywide measure of engagement appears a ways off. Last month, the American Association of Advertising Agencies and the Association of National Advertisers formed a joint committee to come up with a definition of engagement that could be adopted by the industry.

But some cable networks-notably Court TV and The Weather Channel-and some large media buying agencies, including Starcom, MediaVest, Carat and Magna Global, have already made deals that are partly based on some measurement of not only how many viewers are delivered-usually measured in gross ratings points-but in how many of those viewers engaged with the client’s marketing message.

These early deals are based on proprietary research and formulas that attempt to combine viewer attentiveness, message recall, direct response and other factors.

“I think everyone is approaching it from different standpoints,” said Shari Anne Brill, VP and director of programming for Carat. “We’re back to identifying viewers’ relationship with programming.”

To Carat that might mean putting a premium on programs that pull in light TV viewers. “It would be better for your program because someone selected you, rather than being a passive potato,” she said.

Ultimately, researchers have a belief that if viewers want to pay attention to the show, they’ll pay attention to the commercials, and that will make the cash register ring. “The person who can prove that relationship is the person who will have a nice business,” Ms. Brill said.

Already, businesses in the research field are looking for ways to get involved.

Nielsen Media Research, which currently provides the industry with numbers on how many people are watching, is looking for ways to get into the field.

Potential Is ‘Huge’

Nielsen spokesman Jack Loftus said the potential size of the market for measuring engagement is “absolutely huge.”

Nielsen’s initial plan is to ask a series of questions about involvement with programming and commercials to members of households after their stint on the company’s national people meters panels expires. Those viewers will continue to have the meter in their homes.

Nielsen’s interest is no surprise to executives in the research field.

“I expect that just as we’ve seen with magazines, where there have been increasing efforts at the qualitative side of magazine audience readership, that the traditional providers of syndicated audience measurement will find ways of dealing with these measures as well as some new people looking for a way to get into a place with the dancing elephants without becoming part of the turf,” Mr. Cook said.

He said a half-dozen companies are trying to get into the audience measurement business, either with new meters or trying to work with data being recorded by cable set-top boxes, and might turn their attention to engagement.

But Mr. Cook had a reservation about some of them: “I don’t know how many of those can couple this kind of technology orientation with a viewer or qualitative orientation to get at whatever engagement turns out to be.”

“I think everybody is looking at how they might do it right now,” said Kate Sirkin, executive VP and global research director of Starcom MediaVest Group.

Nielsen will release minute-by-minute viewing data in a more accessible form at the end of the year. That will help researchers get a better idea of what makes viewers reach for the remote and will give agencies and clients an idea of what turns viewers off as they go through a commercial break, Ms. Sirkin said. It also will provide more positive information about how loyal viewers are “at a much more granular level than we did before.”

Vendors May Figure Metrics

Ms. Sirkin said that in the ad deals she’s done that incorporate engagement, the networks are using other vendors to calculate the metrics.

“People like the copy testing services may end up being the ones that create some sort of metric, but it may be used in conjunction with more granular data from Nielsen,” she said. “I think it’s going to be a combination, not just a straight Nielsen-type answer. I think it’s going to be a lot more complicated than that. And I think that’s a good thing.”

One research company looking to build a name for itself in measuring effectiveness of TV is IAG Research, which this week added The WB to its network client list and has done some work with Court TV.

“There has been a groundswell among marketers to learn more about the impact of their advertising on television,” said veteran ad agency researcher David Marans, who joined IAG earlier this year as executive VP. “We’re already working with a significant number of clients, advertisers, agencies and networks to help gather more information and get answers to some of these long-simmering questions.”

Bigger Sample Is Better

While much of the engagement research being done now is on a case-by-case basis, Mr. Marans argues that syndicated research in this area would be more valuable, because with a bigger sample and a deeper database, there are benchmarks and norms established for networks, programs, commercials and even product integration activity.

“Context is very important,” Mr. Marans said. “If it’s syndicated data, it’s uniform. There is no apples to oranges.”

IAG has developed several metrics that Mr. Marans and his clients think measure advertising effectiveness, including attentiveness-which Mr. Marans equates to engagement-and recall. And he said their data shows a noteworthy linkage between program attentiveness and commercial recall, “which is, by the way, a question that has confounded researchers ever since ‘Lucy’ was on the air.”

Mr. Marans said his numbers are more valuable than Nielsen’s.

“We already have a pretty good idea from a company in this industry that measures how many people are watching. That’s a currency. But that currency does not answer a panoply of other questions, especially in the era of DVRs,” he said. “I know there were 2 million people watching, but how many remembered the brand in the commercial? Not how many people saw the commercial, but now many actually remembered the brand? Or how many people remember what the key message was in the commercial? Did they feel the product placement fit well in the program? Or did their opinion of the brand change?”

Ms. Sirkin said that IAG has at least part of what she’s seeking. “We’re looking at using their data for a number of different areas. They’ve already got such a huge database on product placement and traditional ad recall, so they’ve got benchmarks and a lot of analytical tools that help us understand how things a
re working,” she said.

Ms. Brill is also familiar with IAG, but had reservations about its methodology, which uses a large Internet panel of respondents that self-select on a daily basis, rather than being a statistically representative sample.

Ultimately, Ms. Sirkin expects that the industry will wind up with a few ways of measuring engagement.

“There will be a depth of engagement with the programming and something about what the advertiser is bringing to the party,” Ms. Sirkin said.

The wrong ad going to the wrong viewer could turn off the viewer, not only to the product being marketed but also to the show being watched.

“My guess is that as we move toward, really trying to engage our viewers by choosing the medium appropriate for the message, we might get one plus one equals three. That’s the goal,” Ms. Sirkin said. “We’ve seen a strong score when we’ve got that right.”

Starting in the U.S.

And getting a measurement of TV in the U.S. is just part of what global marketers are looking for.

“The thing that’s really being sought here is how do we get to avoid the problem of having different audience measurement systems in all the different countries that don’t tie together?” Mr. Cook said of the ARF.

Beyond that, marketers will want to go beyond TV and bring in other media on the same scale.

“How do we make something that’s comparable, whether we’re talking about print or television or radio or online?” he said. “And then how do we translate that into something used for actually planning a campaign, monitoring a campaign and assessing a campaign, post-buy?

“I think the media agencies will continue to have their own proprietary offerings. Ad agencies have always had that as how they define themselves,” Mr. Cook said.

Nevertheless, some generally agreed-upon figure that gives the industry a view of how networks and media stack up would be useful. At one recent meeting, Mr. Cook said, an executive noted that while the government body-fat index may not be a perfect measure of obesity, it could serve as a lingua franca.

“I thought that was a neat example, because it has this overarching capability and it helps to lace together a lot of diverse work and finding and meanings into a common structure,” he said. “And I think that’s the kind of thing that we’re out to try to accomplish.”