Making a Case for the Glossies

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With the release of the second in an ongoing series of consumer studies, the Magazine Publishers of America continues to build its case for the power of print advertising. Released in April, the MPA analysis attempts to quantify the impact that print campaigns have on product sales. Procter & Gamble global marketing officer Bob Wehling calls it "a valuable piece of information that should answer the question on people's minds about whether print is an image builder or whether it can have an impact on short-term sales."

ACNielsen conducted the study, using its scanner data to examine the purchase behavior of 50,000 households. From within the entire sample, demographically matched groups of about 4,000 were compared: Half had been exposed to magazine campaigns for one of ten consumer brands and the other half had not. The sales data were then compared to evaluate what percent of households purchased a particular product and how much they bought.

Short-term results showed that for nine of the ten packaged-good brands measured, households exposed to magazine ads were more likely to purchase the advertised product than those that had not seen the magazine ads. Dollar sales also increased among households exposed to advertising for eight of the ten brands measured, as did the amount purchased.

For example, the proportion of households buying Campbell's soup and Cool Whip was 37 percent and 30 percent higher, respectively, among those exposed to the magazines tested than those that were not. Householders who saw the campaigns also spent 28 percent and 35 percent more, respectively, on the products than did those households not exposed to the campaigns. "The beauty of this [Nielsen] method is that it can identify just those people reached by the magazine campaign," says Tom Robinson, vice president of marketing and research for the MPA. "You're comparing apples to apples. And when you look at the sales results, they're impressive."

Of course, media buyers are happy to be armed with such hard data when going into meetings with print-shy clients who may need additional convincing of the medium's ability to drive sales. Cynthia Evans, senior vice president of research at Young & Rubicam's The Media Edge, says she likes being able to see the sales impact in dollars and cents, as opposed to the "touchy-feely" results of the MPA's first study on brand awareness. (See "Just Paging Through," April 1999.)

ACNielsen identified participants' buying habits before and after the testing period, which ran through the second quarter of last year. Last July, each household received a questionnaire that pictured the covers of the April, May, and June issues of 14 magazines-among them Reader's Digest, Family Circle, Parents, People, Ladies Home Journal, TV Guide, and Cosmopolitan. Using hand-held scanners, participants were asked to scan the UPC codes on the covers of the magazine issues they had read. That information was then downloaded and laid over the household's purchasing behavior four months before and after the release of the April issue.

For Evans, the study's value is as much in the research model as it is in the results themselves. "This is the first time there's been a direct tracking of sales related to magazine ads using the same [scanner data] that manufacturers use," she says. While Evans still has some reservations because the study does not factor in other media variables that could have influenced participants' buying habits, she sees tremendous opportunity in building on the method's foundation.

Like Evans, P&G's Wehling hopes the MPA's research will encourage advertisers and agencies to start using the method to test other variables, such as different versions of creative. "I would like to see agencies take the study and do their own internal analysis, and initiate studies including print in different environments, and with different audiences," says Wehling.

In fact, some marketers are already doing just that: "We've extended an invitation to a select group [of advertisers] to partner" in a further testing process, says MPA's Robinson.

Up next from MPA: A direct-mail survey of 10,000 consumers to find out what media they rely on for entertainment and product information. The survey will cover the Web, radio, cable and network television, magazines, and newspapers, and is expected to be completed by fall.

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