Measuring the reader relationship

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Publishers and researchers alike know that magazine editorial content is key to creating the environment in which the advertisements work or don’t work. The Holy Grail, however, is finding a measurement that enables advertisers to compare that reader-to-magazine relationship across publications and even across media. The following summarizes some recent initiatives:

Starch Communications, a brand in ad readership studies that dates back to 1923, provides its services to major business publications, as well as specialty b-to-b publications. Over the past few years, Starch has been developing new ways to measure advertising, both in print and online.

In response to advertisers’ increased need to prove ROI, Starch has developed a series of metrics for what it calls “return on objectives,” or an ad’s impact against specific objectives, including actions taken, purchase intent, intent to recommend and the ability of an ad to stimulate changes in brand disposition. Starch’s proprietary measurement of brand disposition, called the Potency Adscore, is an index that evaluates the extent to which a given advertisement maintains the health of a brand, aids the brand’s growth or, perhaps, damages the brand. Starch also has added questions to measure the impact of a print reader’s “engagement” with the publication against their views of the advertising within it.

“Involvement” is a term being explored by Magazine Publishers of America (MPA) and some of its member publishers, including an alliance of widely read consumer magazines that sponsored a research project in spring 2003. The study was based on an Internet-enabled panel with more than 1,000 respondents who read March or April issues of Reader’s Digest, Better Homes & Gardens, National Geographic, People or TV Guide. Through a measurement tool called the Involvement Index, the researchers found a connection between increased reader involvement and increased advertising effectiveness.

In 2002 and 2003, the Media Management Center of Northwestern University, MPA and the American Society of Magazine Editors conducted “The Magazine Reader Experience Study,” which was designed “to help the magazine and advertising industries understand and begin to measure consumers’ experiences when they read a magazine and how those experiences do (or don’t) drive readership and advertising impact.” From this study, researchers developed a Reader Usage Measure (RUM) based on the amount of time a reader spends with a given magazine combined with the reader’s frequency of reading it.

Currently a task force of members of ABM and MPA are trying to put together a research model that will use some sort of reader involvement or engagement measurement to compare print advertising to advertising in other media. The task force first met in May and plans to meet again this month.

-Marie Griffin

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