Experts: Media Research Becoming More Interpretive, Less Standardized

The inability to agree on the best measurements continues to leave agencies perplexed, a panel of ad industry professionals noted Monday.

Furthermore, the perennial issues of return on investment and exposure versus engagement, fragmentation, and the proliferation of "soft" media metrics, also dominated the discussion, which was held by the Radio and Television Research Council at The Yale Club in New York.

"There's a significant difference between the numbers and measurements we plan with and our actual goals," said Erwin Ephron, a partner at media consultancy Ephron, Papazian, Ephron. "The question facing the industry today is--how can we come up with numbers that are more realistic?"

Other panelists noted that there are realistic numbers--as long as the clients are realistic in what they want to achieve in terms of ROI, and accept that certain aspects of consumer behavior are simply beyond the complete grasp of marketers.

"Measurement entails measuring stimulus, exposure, and response," said Jon Swallen, senior vice president-research, TNS Media Intelligence. "Contact, or stimulus, can't be measured or properly accounted for."

Swallen did note that since engagement is something that may resist quantifiable measurements, marketers can more fully understand how that "stimulus" of marketing works in the hands of consumers who exercise greater control over the messages they receive.

"Before we were researchers or marketers, we were consumers, and we need to wear that consumer hat more often when dealing with concepts concerning measurement," Swallen said. "One thing is certain: consumers are desensitized by the control they have. That's why, amid all the spam and clutter, they don't just filter--they tune out completely."

In looking at individual media that have shown some reliable degree of measurability, Ephron said, look to the most primitive.

"The most benighted medium--outdoor--is leading the way" in getting actionable measurement, Ephron said. "You can know whether someone noticed a billboard, you can know its size, its shape; whether it's on the right side of the road or the left side; you can know what sort of environment it's in--that is, how many ads are surrounding it. Think about it for television. There are equivalencies: you can know the number of commercials in a pod, whether there were children in the room when the viewer was watching, whether anyone was paying attention."

"Everyone's looking at engagement," said Doug Pulick, senior vice president-research for National Cinemedia, the in-theater advertising arm of the Regal multiplex chain. "We've had an easier time in some ways, because radio and TV is done behind closed doors. I think that's one reason why in-theater advertising has grown as much as it has. We can offer a degree of proof that other mediums can't."

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