Starch's Galin Weighs In Effective Magazine Advertising

The ways in which different types of ad positioning affect readership is an ongoing discussion in the industry. Starch Advertising Research has measured consumer readership of hundreds of thousands of ads. To gain perspective, MediaPost asked Dr. Mickey Galin, senior vice president, Starch Advertising Research, to weigh for a Q&A on the topic.

Q. Why did Starch Advertising Research conduct an ad adjacency analysis?

A. Let me be up front: We don't have all the answers." There are no hard and fast rules; a killer creative execution can change everything.  But we are in a really good position to offer some fact-based guidance on which ad positions seem to work better than others, particularly because our analysis is probably the largest of its kind.

Q. How was the analysis done?

A. This analysis was about ad adjacency only -- not other forms of ad positioning. We literally hand-catalogued the nearly 68,000 ads Starch measured from January '09 to June '10 -- across 1,884 magazine issues -- according to their adjacencies. For instance, was the ad next to another ad, next to the cover story, next to an article or next to a relevant article? By the way, we define "relevant article" as being about the same subject as an adjacent ad.

Q. Is this a one-time study, or does Starch intend to carry out another analysis or even make it a regular service)?

A. This Ad Adjacency information is now in the Starch database, so clients can do their own, updated analysis whenever they wish. We recently completed our historical cataloguing of ad adjacency information -- the 68,000 ads under consideration in this analysis are included in that cataloguing. However, all ads we measure moving forward will similarly be catalogued in this way. Starch users will eventually be able to slice and dice ads according to adjacency positioning in any way they choose: magazine genre, specific magazines, ad sector.

Q. What did you find in your analysis?

A. There are a couple of headlines here. Ads next to editorial, on average, are read by more consumers than ads next to other ads. Specifically, ads next to edit are, on average, read by 51% of magazine readers compared to 46% of readers who noted ads adjacent to other ads. This is a five-percentage-point difference, which is fairly significant. Put another way -- ads adjacent to edit get an 11% lift in consumer readership when compared to ads adjacent to other ads.  What type of edit an ad is next to, however, doesn't seem to have much impact -- except in one instance. Being placed next to a cover story or a relevant article did not increase readership any more than being next to any article. On the other hand, being placed next to a Table of Contents has a strong impact on readership; on average, there was an eight-percentage-point difference between readership of ads next to a TOC and ads next to any form of edit -- and a 28% lift in readership when comparing TOC adjacency to being next to another ad.

Q. Are there any exceptions to the rules?

A. There are plenty of exceptions. For example, women's fashion and beauty books seem to buck the "it is better to be adjacent to edit than ads" trend. There was virtually no difference in average scores for ads opposite edit as opposed to ads opposite other ads in this genre. Bridal is another genre where the impact of an ad being placed next to edit is not as large. On the other hand, business and finance books, in general, act in the opposite direction; across all titles in this genre, ads in received an 18% lift in readership by being placed adjacent to an article as opposed to an ad.

Q. What other genre-specific insights did you find?

A. One of the really interesting findings is how relatively well ads next to magazines' table of contents perform across all genres. This is not only true for the analysis as a whole, but also when you look at ad performance by magazine genre. There was a double-digit lift in readership for ads adjacent to a table of comments vs. another ad in every single genre. The same was true when we compared readership of ads next to a TOC vs. next to other edit; again a double-digit lift in readership across all genre -- as high as a 33% lift in the case of the Aviation and aerospace genre.

Q. What about other forms of positioning? What has Starch Advertising Research learned about the efficacy of them?

A. Ads in cover positions tend to have the highest noted scores. And, ads in the front of a magazine tend to be read by more readers than ads in the back of the magazine. But, perhaps surprisingly, we have found no difference in readership scores between ads on right-hand versus left-hand pages.

Q. Can you speculate about why an ad next to editorial content gets this lift in readership, relative to an ad next to another ad?

A. Well, my opinion is purely speculative. Starch does not ask consumers why they read a given ad, just if they read a given ad. But I do think there are some common-sense observations: Readers probably stay on a page longer if they are reading an article or a TOC. And it's certainly no secret that some consumers avoid ads in any medium, be it print or electronic. However, this doesn't seem to be the case for books, where the ads are almost seen as part of the editorial package -- where consumers read the magazine for the ads as much as the articles. We see that happening with woman's fashion and with bridal titles.

Q. How do you envision the marketplace using this data?

A. I'm hopeful this top-line analysis will give an up-to-date framework to aid in the positioning conversation between advertisers, their agencies, and publishers. It can help to sort of anchor the discussion. An advertiser, for instance, may learn that pharma ads buck the overall trend and work best when being placed next to a relevant article -- and can have that positioning conversation with the magazines carrying its campaign.

Q: Is there any way the findings might help streamline the work of media buyers and planners?

A. I don't think this will streamline the positioning process for buyers and planners. On the other hand, these data do have the potential to give buyers and planning more meaningful positioning planning metrics, so they can maximize readership for any given campaign.

Q: On the publisher side, could these data inform strategies to make magazines overall more effective as an ad medium -- e.g., by making sure ads are separated by editorial content?

A. Yes, I think magazines can strategically use these data. But I would argue that making sure ads are separated by editorial content is only a start -- and may not be appropriate in every instance, such as fashion ads. Publishers can use this data to understand how their title or genre performs for different advertising categories and develop strategies from there. And to educate advertisers on the power of print. What other medium offers 50+ percent of ad recall on a consistent basis?

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