The Biz: Studies take close look at receptivity

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Two new studies offer the potential to give advertisers a new metric beyond aggregating eyeballs and demographics by seeking to measure relative issues of audience interest and ad relevance.

Should their findings and methods take root, they could cut through the current noise and fragmentation of the media landscape and point marketers to consumers most interested in their brands.

"I'm old enough to recall when you did not have to worry about clutter," says Robert Passikoff, president of Brand Keys, a New York-based branding research firm responsible for one of the studies. The measurements used by TV and magazines-among them Nielsen ratings and readership data from Audit Bureau of Circulations, and demographic information from Mediamark Research Inc.-"are all fine. They do what they purport to do," but don't take into account some of the finer points of consumer behavior, he says.

Brand Keys' study seeks to quantify what it calls "brand-to-media consonance," focused on two clients-housewares giant Kohler Co. and energy company Keyspan-for its initial findings. The study is an attempt to demonstrate whether media selections hurt or enhance a company's brand, and how even between similar media choices, one outlet may provide better brand value support than another does.

The other study, from Next Generation, New York-a consortium of media research veterans Ed Papazian, Steve Blacker and Mike Ephron-goes broader and is backed by over 20 media and agency companies. It measures what it terms an "ad receptivity index" of 400 brands across a wide swath of TV and print channels.

Some findings are decidedly intuitive. In the Brand Keys survey, the magazine with the greatest "consonance" with Kohler's ads was Meredith Corp.'s Traditional Home. Among new car buyers, according to Next Generation's pilot study of 1,152 consumers, the magazine category with the most ad-receptive car buyers was-surprise!-automotive. Those titles notched an "index" of 393, a score that nearly triples what Papazian cites as a "typical" index score of 140. But in second place among key magazine categories, with an index of 228, are fitness and health magazines.

Ad receptivity among consumers varied widely among ad categories. Men 18 and older were most "receptive" to pitches about movies, cruise vacations and foreign vacations, and least receptive to messages about debt consolidation loans and credit cards. In general, says Next Generation's Blacker, receptivity for necessary-but-not-fun categories like financial services "was much lower than for things that people actually enjoy, like movies and travel." Consumers over the age of 55, Papazian says, tend to be slightly more receptive to ads across all categories than younger consumers.


"I am really excited about it," says Cynthia Evans, a veteran of consumer polling concerns like AC Nielsen and Arbitron and current senior partner at Mediaedge:cia, whose WPP Group sibling MindShare was among the Next Generation's survey backers. "We have a lot of audience data. The next challenge is to understand why [an ad] works, and how it works."

A broader Next Generation study is currently underway, which is probing ad receptivity issues among 15,000 adults. That study is slated to be completed in July, and its findings will be available shortly thereafter online to the survey's subscribers, who pay a variable six-figure fee.

Judging from the comments of Wenner Media's General Manager Kent Brownridge, though, his company may not be one of them.

While calling a summary of the Brand Keys' study "interesting" and conceding its solid grounding, he nonetheless expresses concerns about both. "In the real world, there are about nine more moving parts to the equations," he says.

Still, if the Cynthia Evans of the world find the studies worthwhile tools, the ad and marketing worlds could end up with a new audience metric alongside its Nielsens, Artibtrons and MRI data.