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Advertisers’ Focus: Engagement

Oct 3, 2005  •  Post A Comment

A task force composed of media and research companies, including CBS and Univision, last week used Advertising Week in New York as a platform to unveil an effort aimed at defining viewer engagement in television advertising.

The Audience Measurement Initiative (AMI) is designed to focus the industry on research that will be able to handle the changing digital landscape. However, if last week’s meetings and comments are an indication, it isn’t going to be an easy process.

On Tuesday, a task force formed by the Advertising Research Foundation, the American Association of Advertising Agencies and the Association of National Advertisers, said it had not yet accomplished its task. It has been trying to develop a new measure to complement reach and frequency, the traditional measures for advertising.

In addition to these gross ratings points, the task force, called MI4, is looking to add a new currency, gross engagement points-calculated as reach times engagement-which would measure advertising across media.

But even the first step, defining engagement, has proved daunting for the group, said Michael Donohue, executive VP of member services for the Four A’s.

One working definition starts with calling engagement a measurable level of involvement resulting from a marketing communication. But even something that simple opens several cans of worms.

Barbara Bacci Mirque, senior VP of the ANA, said advertisers need to know that engagement behavior is predictive of sales. There are also questions about how any measurement would be applied across various media and about weighting the depth of engagement, such as comparing the worth of an ad you click on and one to which you are simply exposed on TV.

Norm Lehoullier, managing director of Grey Interactive, said what’s needed are simple tools that will work across different delivery vehicles. “We won’t be successful unless what comes out is super easy to use,” he said.

Mr. Donohue said the task force will try to work quickly to find an answer and that it hopes to have a report by March or April, when the ARF, the Four A’s and the ANA all have major meetings.

The ARF also helped introduce the AMI, which they hope will “define, develop and promote improved and consistent audience measurement for all media in the U.S. advertising marketplace.”

Andy Fessell, VP-strategic insights at Carat Freestyle, said AMI would be an independent organization, although the ARF was providing some infrastructure. The group was soliciting charter members, who would make initial donations of $3,000. Membership is open to advertisers, ad agencies, media companies and industry associations. Already signed, besides CBS and Univision, are Lifetime, the Radio Advertising Bureau, Ford, MPG and the Media Rating Council.

Research providers were invited to join an advisory council.

AMI is designed to work collaboratively with research providers and find areas where several research companies can work together and share costs.

Members of the AMI steering committee said a “category 5 event” was approaching the industry because it was still using analog research to measure an increasingly digital landscape. Without adequate research, media companies won’t be able to know what their audience is and advertisers won’t be willing to pay for them.

Gale Metzger, senior consultant to Knowledge Networks and former head of SMART, a challenger to Nielsen that never won industry support, questioned whether media companies would be able to fund AMI’s research activity. And Frank Foster, president of Erin Media, said that the industry’s goal should be to foster competition to the major players in the industry.

Others complained that the AMI was not a strong enough measure, that a Joint Industry Council (JIC), which would have more direct control over research providers such as Nielsen Media Research, was necessary. In the past, Nielsen has threatened to sue organizers of a JIC on antitrust grounds. AMI organizers said they were confident that they were not running afoul of antitrust rules.

David Poltrack, executive VP-research and planning at CBS, said that by providing a unified vision of the kind of research the industry needed, the AMI would invite competition among measurement companies. That could threaten existing players. “Are you going to adopt or let the little guys take over?”

Present at last week’s meeting was Stephen Morris, president and CEO of Arbitron, who said his company isn’t afraid of being graded by its customers. Arbitron will participate in the advisory council.

Paul Donato, senior VP and chief research officer of Nielsen Media Research, said he was supportive of the idea of collaborative research. He said Nielsen is likely to sign on also.