A new study sponsored by the Magazine Publishers of America is also tackling the issue of accountability. Magazine advertising, it suggests, deserves a little more respect when it comes to delivering cost-effective brand recognition.
Conducted by Millward Brown, the study surveyed some 500,000 consumers by telephone over a two-year period. Participants were asked to recall any of 113 brands across 22 product categories and how they learned of the brand. The total number of respondents who said they were made aware of a certain product through a magazine ad was 64 percent: 29 percent through magazines alone, and 35 percent when magazines and television were combined. The total number who were made aware of a brand through television was 71 percent-36 percent attributed awareness to television alone, and 35 percent to combined television and magazine ads.
The results are better than expected, some say. Magazines have long been treated as a weak runner-up to television in terms of creating brand awareness. But in fact, little has been known on the subject. Until now, data quantifying how magazine ads measure up on the effectiveness index has been scarce, forcing publishers and media buyers to make do with conventional wisdom and ancillary information. "We'd use Simmons or MRI data to look at the target audience and their media habits, as well as at successful case studies like the [Got Milk?] campaign," says Anita Peterson, group director of magazine strategy at DDB Needham/Optimum Media. "But," she adds, "there have been virtually no studies that exist on magazine effectiveness."
The MPA study, released in October as the first in a series, also found that magazines' ability to generate awareness is a bargain-almost three times more cost-effective than television. In 1996-97, only 23 percent of the $9 billion spent on advertising for the 113 brands tracked went to magazines, while 77 percent went to television, the study says. Millward Brown arrived at a dollar-for-dollar comparison of effectiveness by dividing the percent of brand awareness attributed to each media by the percent of ad spending. Magazines ranged from being five times more effective (for personal care products) to twice as effective (for drugs and remedies) across six broad categories. While some media directors are enthusiastic about the study, others say the numbers seem a little too good to be true. "It's always helpful to have new information. And audience fragmentation is causing some advertisers to rethink their bias toward TV," says Ellen Oppenheim, media director at Foote, Cone & Belding. But, she adds, "Some of the increases of effectiveness in the mix are enormous. This may cause some people to question [the study's] validity."
Steve Greenberger, senior vice president and director of print media at Grey MediaCom concurs. "The unfortunate nature of the study is that ad awareness is so strong for print that it has made many in the industry take second and third glances at the information." In part, says Greenberger, the problem lies in evaluating how much awareness is attributable to each medium when someone has been exposed to more than one. "The question is whether one overpowers the other in terms of effectiveness," he says.
"This is the first time the magazine industry has done a study like this," says Christine Miller, executive vice president of marketing for the New York City-based MPA. "We know how rapidly the media landscape is changing and how many options are available. And that creates a lot of questions about how each medium works and how effective it is."
The study is being used by media buyers to make their case to clients. "We would raise the Millward Brown study in client meetings as additional rationale for using magazines," says DDB Needham's Peterson. "But we would bring up to the client that it should be taken with a grain of salt. They're saying, 'Okay, great, my brand awareness level is 80 percent, but I want to know how it ties into sales results.'" The MPA hopes to answer that question with its next study, which is scheduled to be released in early March. Conducted by ACNielsen, it uses supermarket scanner data to track product sales in relation to advertising campaigns.