The MPA teamed with two pre-eminent research companies, A.C. Nielsen Corp. and Millward Brown Internationalfor two large-scale research projects.
To date, 11 of the biggest magazine publishers-including Time Inc., Conde Nast Publications, Hachette Filipacchi, Hearst Magazines and Rodale Corp.-have signed on as sponsors.
MAGAZINES' CONTRIBUTION TO MIX
The first of the studies is the Millward Brown partnership, which began this summer with results expected this fall. It will analyze results from the researcher's large database of ad-tracking studies to isolate the contribution of magazine ads in the broad media mix.
The Millward Brown leg of the project aims to demonstrate "how magazines work in building brands and raising brand awareness," says Christine Miller, VP-marketing for the MPA, who initiated the project after arriving at the association last year.
Results are expected next spring from the Nielsen-led phase of the study, measuring magazines' impact on actual product sales by studying the buying habits of 50,000 Nielsen households. It will compare purchases by those homes exposed only to magazines with those exposed only to TV and those looking at both media.
Over a three-month period, Nielsen will examine specific issues of 14 consumer titles including Conde Nast's Glamour and Vogue, Time's People, Hearst's Cosmopolitan and Good Housekeeping and Reader's Digest.
Researchers will compare print campaigns appearing in these magazines with TV ads for the same period.
Ms. Miller says the time is right for such research, as advertisers and agencies increasingly place accountability for advertising's effectiveness on all media, including magazines.
RESEARCHERS ADD VALIDITY
The involvement of two well-known, independent research firms, adds validity to the efforts, some say.
The perception persists that when it comes to showing the effectiveness of their ads, magazines have more to prove than TV.
"We have to jump more hurdles than most other media," Ms. Miller notes. But she singles out a number of brands that have dedicated the lion's share-and, in some cases, the entirety-of their ad budgets to print, among them Ralph Lauren and Absolut vodka.
Still, the weight of accountability remains.
The MPA project "was developed out of requests from large print advertisers who have been asking the magazine business to bring more innovative and comprehensive research to the marketplace," says Michael Clinton, senior VP-marketing at Hearst Magazines, another publisher-sponsor. "So as an industry, we're now responding to that."
While the MPA and its members have high hopes for the latest research project, some agency people wonder just how much difference it will make.
"I'm supportive, but let's not kid ourselves that this is going to answer all of advertisers' questions about print," says Lee Doyle, co-media director of Ammirati Puris Lintas, Chicago, and chair of the American Association of Advertising Agencies' consumer magazine committee.
"The big issue these days is not whether print works, but rather how well it works relative to the money being spent in the medium, and relative to other media choices," Mr. Doyle explains.
"Accountability used to mean, did I get the audience for the advertising I paid for? Now it means, how many cases did I sell for each dollar I in invested in a medium and how does that compare with other marketing investments I made? We're looking to quantify in a whole new way," says Mr. Doyle.