The Biz: Starcom quantifies impact of print ads

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Publicis Groupe's Starcom Media-vest Group has completed a study that marks the latest attempt to quantify what ads have the most impact on magazine readers.

The results, while not entirely surprising, occur in the context of a continuing tug-of-war between advertisers and magazines over audience metrics. The key measurements used for magazine audience are demographic and audience figures from the likes of Mediamark Research, and circulation data from the Audit Bureau of Circulations.

Roiling the waters this year are several concerns that have been raised over how magazines report circulation data to ABC, which crystallized around Gruner & Jahr USA Publishing's YM. The teen title overstated its 2001 newsstand sales by almost 200,000 copies, but that fact did not come to light until early this year, when the ABC audit of that data was released.

SMALL PIECE

But Karen Jacobs, exec VP-director of print investment, made it clear that Starcom, which now touts a service it calls the Positioning Impact Evaluator, or P.I.E., tool as an outgrowth of its study, says that the numbers are but one small piece of the pie.

"At the end of the day, exposure is not really what we're after," says Ms. Jacobs. "Exposure needs to move toward engagement."

Her distinctions matter. The survey found 81% of respondents said they did not flip by ads-but reactions to individual ads in what the study termed "average positions" drew reader-recall figures that ranged from 7% to 71.4%. Quantifying such recall greatly increases the bang for advertising buck, but is a far less cut-and-dried matter than tallying up copies sold.

Some findings of the study confirm long-held industry truisms. Four-color ads boasted better recall than black-and-white ads; print campaigns that ran for more than a year had recall scores boosted 10%; reader recall swelled if print buys were supported by other media; and what Starcom's Richard Fielding, VP-director of insights and analytics, says is "an involved or engaged reader" resulted in significantly higher recall scores-a boon to titles in the African-American category, from which that finding was derived.

But some conventional wisdom of the media community is called into question by some findings. For one, "front-of-the-book [placement] is always better-ain't necessarily so," says Jacobs. "There are times when you want to have the adjacency to relevant editorial instead. A significant number of people told us they never read the letters to the editor"-almost invariably an opening section of a magazine.

Another: "Clutter isn't always bad," Jacobs says, who reported some findings indicate an imposing thicket of ads could lead to more remembered messages.

On a more whimsical note: Ads that depicted landscapes instead of people were better recalled. The full impact of this delightfully oddball outcome was lessened somewhat by Fielding, who postulated that perhaps this reflected nothing more than the fact that more ads depict faces than landscapes. Another finding, likely to annoy creatives, is that logos were better remembered owing to how large they appeared in the ad. And all-text ads, or ones with one predominant graphic in the copy, boasted higher recall scores.

METHOD

The study polled 7,835 readers of 15 magazines, in categories including African-American, business, entertainment, epicurean, parenting, sports, weeklies, and women's titles. (Starcom executives refused to identify any magazines used in the survey.) Participants were shown ads that ran in those magazines via Web TV and then asked a series of questions to determine how well they'd been recalled.

The study, conducted by Knowledge Networks-which ran a reader involvement study backed by a consortium of eight consumer magazines earlier this year aimed to come up with a metric to measure reader involvement. Unlike that study, Starcom's effort is aimed at facilitating more efficient print buys, and not necessarily quantifying magazine ad effectiveness in a wider media universe. Magazines may find that more useful, given the massive upfront TV scored this year while an ad turnaround for magazines remains maddeningly elusive.

Nevertheless, Jacobs, who mentioned the study during a presentation to the ANA Print Forum this June, tied the findings into a sort of theory of everything about the future for magazines. "Magazine buying will focus on connection," she says, "and then magazine currencies will change."

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