Study Proves Reader Involvement Matters

There are two simple takeaways from the Knowledge Networks study that was released last month, and most agencies are getting the point: Reader involvement is crucial to ad recall, and the proven formula is tied to a working number, a newly remodeled Involvement Index.

After interviewing readers of the five largest-circulation magazines (Reader's Digest, National Geographic, Better Homes and Gardens, People and TV Guide), Knowledge Networks found that highly involved readers were three times more likely to recall ads than the readers with average levels of involvement. What's more, highly involved readers were nearly 10 times more likely than low-involvement readers to recall advertising. This is based on interviews in which more than 1,000 readers of the five publications' March and April 2003 issues were asked about five specific ads on both aided and unaided bases.

The study was commissioned by the Magazine Involvement Alliance, a group of magazines (Reader's Digest, National Geographic, Country Living, FamilyFun, Golf Digest, Guideposts, Smithsonian and The Family Handyman) dedicated to bringing audience quality, not merely size, to the forefront of magazine selection (not simply as a tie-breaker) Our goal in this research was threefold: to precisely determine the connection between reader involvement and ad recall, to identify the readership factors that most contribute to recall, and to adjust the Involvement Index formula according to what's proven to work



In the past year, there has been considerable debate over the most meaningful readership measures. So we had Knowledge Networks test all nine MRI qualitative measures as well as two other "non-MRI" measures which are used to demonstrate reader involvement. They found that frequency (reading four of four issues), reading time (spending at least 31 minutes per issue), and preference (citing the magazine as "one of my favorites") make the most impact on unaided ad recall.

Contrary to a report published in Media Post, the Knowledge Networks study did not pit magazines against TV. Rather, the research explained 15% of the reason why participants recall ads, which compares favorably with the leading TV recall research that explained 12% of participants' ad recall. The point: The magazine involvement-recall research confirmed the benefit of including reader involvement as an integral part of magazine evaluation. Involvement is one of the only factors proven to move the needle in ad recall. Many other factors that are popular criteria for defining "wantedness" in media planning, such as ABC's "average price paid" measure , have yet to be proven out.

Most important for advertisers is that this is not a theoretical finding. The high-recall formula is tied to a readily usable tool, the Involvement Index. Knowledge Networks established a new model for the Index that brings it directly in line with what the survey proved actually spurs recall. A new default for the Index will be based 51% on reading frequency, 25% on reading time and 24% on magazine preference as measured by MRI.

At a time when most advertisers recognize that truly connecting with consumers--rather than just flitting messages in front of their eyes--is the key to establishing a brand conversation and ultimately converting a customer, arguably nothing is more important than pinpointing this ROI connection.

Ultimately, everyone wants to know how reader involvement contributes to product sales. In truth, that Holy Grail of advertising is many years away, at best. A magazine's role in advertising is to provide the environment for advertisers' ads to be seen, and highly involving magazines best allow brand advantages and creative to resonate. The Knowledge Networks study has provided a critical link in the impact chain, which starts with ad recall. What's more, that link is usable today. A number of mega-agencies are already putting it to use, to significant advantage for their clients.

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