Eight leading consumer magazines devised a new standardized measure to show how ad recall increases with reader involvement. Hearst Magazine's Country Living, Walt Disney Co.'s FamilyFun, Advance Publication's Golf Digest, National Geographic Society's National Geographic, Reader's Digest Association's Reader's Digest and The Family Handyman, Smithsonian and Guideposts banded together as the Involvement Alliance and commissioned a study from Knowledge Networks to find a link between readership intensity and ad recall.
"Because of the proliferation of media, everyone is vying for consumer attention, so it's important to know how to measure it," says Milton Dunton, research director, National Geographic.
At this month's Association of National Advertisers' Print Forum in New York City, Karen Jacobs, exec VP-media director, Publicis Groupe's Starcom Mediavest Group, noted that circulation and readership data is not enough to evaluate which titles can deliver for advertisers. "Advertisers need to understand how their dollars are giving them results," she said.
Susan Walsh, Hearst Magazines' director of research, agrees that understanding reader involvement can lead to smarter media buys. "You have to know where to put your money," she says. "And because the stakes are so high, ad agencies probably need more guidance as to where to spend it."
The study, funded by the Alliance with $100,000 and completed April 9, attempts to give advertisers qualitative data to prove the more connected a reader is to a magazine, the more he will recall the ads within that magazine.
Britta Ware, research director for Reader's Digest, suggests that if a reader spends 31 minutes or more reading the magazine, names it as one of her favorites and has read the last four issues, that magazine's brand recall will bring more return on investment. In fact, the Involvement Index found those participants who scored high in all three categories had an unaided ad recall of 20.7%, a leap from the average participant's 7.3%.
To gather this data, Knowledge Networks contacted 1,044 participants via phone to test their brand recall skills using four categories: unaided recall, aided recall with a brand list, aided recall with a written cue and aided recall with a visual cue. The ads were taken from the March and April issues of the five largest-audience magazines in the United States: Reader's Digest, National Geographic, Better Homes and Gardens, People and TV Guide.
In 2000, the Magazine Publishers of America released a study that found magazines produced "higher return on investment rates than any other media studies, second only to trade promotion." A 1997 Millward Brown International/MPA study that tracked ad awareness for 113 brands across 22 categories found that "dollar for dollar, advertising expenditures in magazines produced significantly higher advertising awareness levels than TV."
Despite the studies, TV continues to grab the majority of marketer's budgets. And media buyers, who are the ones asking for more research, tend to be dismissive of new studies.
"I would take it with a grain of salt. Initially, they sound like impressive numbers, but I would want to know what other influences were measured if any and how they were able to control the environment," said Eric Blankfein, media buyer for Horizon Media, of the Involvement Alliance's findings.