Let's Get Engaged!

Have you ever thought that delivering advertising is much the same as having a relationship with that certain special someone? You look. You find. You date. You engage. You make a connection. When it comes to our industry, we're stuck in the looking/finding/dating loop. Who are we looking for? The consumers, of course. We are all, advertisers and agencies alike, still scrambling to identify where those "special someones" are. Instead of Internet dating sites, the elusive single-source audience research or multimedia mix modeling seem to be our Holy Grail.

Arbitron has just released the top-line radio listening and television viewing estimates based on data from their Portable People Meter (PPM) test in Houston. At first blush, the data looks as though it provides new insights into radio and television audience estimates. But wait... Remember that the ultimate relationship challenge is to engage that "special someone" after finding them. Are the PPM panel members really paying attention to the media to which they've been exposed? In other words, are they engagement material? Will they truly connect with our clients' messaging?



Let's imagine that ppm is operational in New York and that a fellow named Chuck is a panel member. He wakes up at 6 a.m. on Monday to his radio alarm clock. The local weather and traffic report shoots at him in rapid-fire time as he stumbles into the bathroom. As he shaves and brushes his teeth, Chuck hears Don Imus skewer the latest celebrity gaffe over the hum of an electric razor and the rush of water. He dutifully attaches his PPM meter to his gym shorts and heads out for his daily workout. While on the treadmill, Chuck watches the TV in front of him, set to a pre-selected channel. Chuck starts his routine of sit-ups and leg exercises, while his PPM records the gym television as actual viewership -- but Chuck is hardly paying full attention, engaged more in his attempt to do another ten crunches.

Back home, Chuck's daughter vies for his attention while he glances over the Wall Street Journal, anxious to learn if he can still afford the variable mortgage on his condo. All the while, his wife has one eye on "The Today Show" and his PPM is picking up the on-air banter about the changing fall leaves.

We know where Chuck is, we know which media has "touched" him, but do we know what has engaged him?

With PPM, our hope is to have the latest available technology to capture a person's exposure to multiple media channels inside and outside of his or her home. But in doing so, we may inadvertently provide marketers with enough data to allow them to "message stalk" but not enough to truly engage their targets.

Remember this summer's seemingly incessant automotive family-discount advertising in all broadcasts all the time? Message stalking. How about the plethora of ads for that car-insurance company? Started out cute, ended up...message stalking.

On the other hand, have you seen the "Everybody Has Some Dirty Laundry" pitch that ABC is conducting as part of its "Desperate Housewives" tune-in campaign? In addition to directly reaching consumers' lives, the network has incorporated the idea into the script and 150,000 consumers will find a free "Desperate Housewives" T-shirt with their laundry.

While the PPM technology holds promise for true cross-media planning, it still won't provide us with any information about a consumer's level of receptivity, engagement, or attention to the media or the message. Beyond such "are you there" technology, we need to quickly move to one that asks and answers the question, How many people did we truly engage? In the interest of managing return on investment and return on objective analyses, data-driven support is critical.

Traditional research studies are only one part of the data we need in determining where the eligible prospects are. There's a vital need for studies that supplement syndicated research information. Tailored to answer questions of attention and engagement, these studies must also provide planners with media learnings based on category- and brand-specific insights which are predictive of future behavior. The marketplace result? Less message stalking and happier engagements.

Steve Farella, president-CEO, and Audrey Siegel, executive vice president and director of client services, are co-founders of TargetCast TCM. ( Farella and Siegel are regular contributors to MEDIA magazine. This column is re-published from the November issue.

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