Study Cracks Code, Finds Print May Be More Engaging Than TV, Radio, Web

New insights drawn from a unique and well-regarded study of consumer media behavior may have uncovered some important clues for cracking Madison Avenue's so-called "media engagement" code, an industry-wide effort to understand how consumers are involved with and influenced by media. The initial findings suggest print media such as magazines and newspapers are far more engaging than electronic media like TV, radio and the Internet, but they also garner far smaller shares of the time consumers spend with media. That paradox suggests that print media may be inherently more valuable for advertisers than more pervasive electronic media, which the study implies are treated like "background" media. But the findings, which academic researchers at Ball State University gleaned from their so-called Middletown Media Studies, stop short of answering Madison Avenue's most important question: how do consumers engage with advertising content within these media?

"The intent of this paper is to see what we have in the Middletown Media Studies that can inform the current discussion about engagement," said Mike Bloxham, director of testing and assessment for BSU's Center For Media Design.

Because the Middletown studies directly observe how consumers use media, they are considered a powerful tool for understanding actual behavior that cannot be measured via the kind of survey research typically used by advertisers and agencies to evaluate media. By taking key components of that data, including the amount of time consumers spend with media, but especially the percentage of time they use each medium either exclusively, or as their primary media option, the university's professors have come up with a rudimentary measure of engagement.

"It's quite interesting when you put the media alongside each other and look at which medium [plays] the greatest percentage of time in people's lives as the primary source, or one that is not being shared with others," explained Bloxham, adding, "That arguably could be one metric that is more or less a measure of engagement. But of course, you have to overlay that with total time spent with the medium."

Using these methods, TV, radio and the Internet clearly dominate total usage. TV dominates in the home, radio in the car, and the Internet at work. No surprises there. But when the researchers looked at which medium has the greatest share of primary usage, print media excels.

Using this measure, magazines ranked first, serving as the exclusive or primary medium 85 percent of the time they are used by consumers. TV and radio ranked second and third, dominating 76 percent and 75 percent of the time they are used by consumers, while newspapers ranked nearly as high, dominating 71 percent of the time they are used by consumers. The Internet dominates during only 48 percent of the time it is used.

Print media also dominated in another important area of engagement study: the time people spend with other important life activities, such as eating.

Not surprisingly, the results were embraced by the print industry, especially the magazine industry, which has been conducting a similar series of studies designed to demonstrate to Madison Avenue that while magazines garner a small percentage of the time consumers spend with media, publications represent much more involving time among those media, and that has a greater value to advertisers seeking to engage consumers.

"What this study does, very well, is demonstrate that engagement is not a simple topic. There are multiple dimensions that need to be understood," said Ellen Oppenheim, CMO of the Magazine Publishers of America. She acknowledged that the study stops short of actually analyzing the impact on advertising in each of the media.

"The level of involvement in reading requires people to be more focused on print and makes it harder to multitask. From what we've seen, the advertising involvement may have many factors," Oppenheim added. She said the MPA is preparing another in its series of accountability and engagement brochures she hopes will demonstrate that conclusion even further.

The BSU white paper, "Engaging the Ad-Supported Media," can be read in its entirety on the Web.

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