Engaged: ad groups take on ROI

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If the three leading ad organizations have their way, TV-centric gross ratings points will be cast aside in favor of a new metric: engagement.

Last week, a joint task force composed of members of the Association of National Advertisers, American Association of Advertising Agencies and the Advertising Research Foundation unveiled an initiative that would shake up the classic equation of advertising math that determines consumer exposure to an ad. It would replace the concept of frequency-the number of exposures to an ad most often expressed as GRPs-with engagement, a metric that could better reflect the growing number of media choices facing consumers, from cellphones and the Internet to video games and podcasts.

"There is so much media now that consumers control access," said Robert DeSena, director-relationship marketing, Masterfoods USA. "It's much more about finding a way to talk to them as individuals."

The initiative, dubbed MI4-for "Measurement Initiative: Advertisers, Agencies, Media and Researchers"-was rolled out at an ANA conference in New York on marketing accountability. It comes as the marketing world goes through a sea change wrought by the ever-growing list of new technologies that's changing on a daily basis how people consume media and, consequently, how they receive commercial messages. Against that backdrop, marketers are more often demanding ways to monitor return on their marketing investments.

While the committee was united in backing the new metric, there was far from a consensus on what exactly engagement is or how to measure it. "The issue is whether we can agree on what engagement is, knowing that's the hard part," said Norman Lehoullier, managing director at Grey Interactive. "There are different levels of engagement and different levels of effectiveness."

Said Mr. DeSena: "Engagement has a psychological component, but it will manifest behaviorally-it will lead to an action."


Mr. DeSena added that the focus on engagement is a broad validation of direct marketing tactics that have long been used to reach consumers in a one-to-one way. "It's kind of a back-to-the-future concept," he said. "What's changed is that consumers are acting more actively on their own and more individually."

The committee's initial tasks are to define engagement and propose a large-scale research effort to validate it as a planning, tracking and return-on-investment metric, said Joseph Plummer, chief research officer at the ARF.

This year's cable upfront was the first place media buying agencies began to change the way ad buys are evaluated, with two deals that go beyond exposure. A deal between The Weather Channel and MediaVest looks at how programming influences brand recall and one between Carat USA and Court TV has a viewer-attentiveness guarantee based on research from Carat (AA, July 18).

At the ANA conference, Starcom Media-Vest Group exec VP-global research director Kate Sirkin said that partnerships with media sellers is vital. The adoption of engagement as a metric, she said, is "something that is going to be done as a partnership."

A separate study unveiled at the conference highlighted the gap between intention and action when it comes to determining ROI. A survey conducted by Marketing Management Analytics, the ANA and Forrester Research found that 60% of marketers polled said that defining, measuring and acting on ROI is important. But only about 20% were satisfied with their efforts to do so.

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