So Much for Engagement; Buys Are Still Based on Eyes

'Wave Eight' Survey of Marketers Finds Media Buyers Still Want Reach and Will Pour More Money Into Online

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NEW YORK ( -- It's still about the eyeballs.

For all the talk about engagement, top marketers and their media buyers still consider reach the No. 1 criteria when they're framing their media plans and making their purchases. In findings shared with Ad Age, the majority of respondents to Advertiser Perceptions' "Wave Eight" survey of 2,047 top marketers and their media buyers, less than half ranked engagement among their top five criteria when buying media.

Garden & Gun

DATA: In the next six months, where are you putting ad dollars?

Garden & Gun

DATA: What are the most important criteria in picking where to pick your company's ad dollars?

That said, the big media spenders plan to pour more dollars into digital in the next six months, which could be construed as a vote for a medium that allows targeting and a high level of measurability -- or maybe just another vote for going where the eyeballs are. An overwhelming 76% of respondents said they will increase online spending within the next six months; 55% said their mobile outlays will rise; and 34% said they will bulk up their cable spending.

Broadcast TV, still the primary reach vehicle in most marketers' minds, will see more money from only 22% of respondents. Some 53% of those surveyed forecast their broadcast budgets will be flat in the next six months, and 25% said they will be down, suggesting the broadcast market will be close to flat.

Big losers
Broadcast pessimism has accelerated because of the writers strike, said Charles Pinkerton, director-communications insight for media-planning and -buying firm Media Kitchen. At Media Kitchen, media planners and buyers "are actively talking to advertisers and our clients about considering things other than television," he said.

But while the climate for broadcast looks bleak now, Steve Lanzano, chief operating officer at Havas media agency MPG, said planners and buyers aren't anticipating a wholesale move out of national broadcast just yet. "Broadcast still works," he said. "I don't think you are going to see a wholesale shift, but instead [buyers will shift dollars] little by little."

The big losers, based on the study, could be national and local newspapers and radio. Scarily for the newspaper world, 37% of respondents said spending on local and national papers will go down, compared with just 14% who said they expect to increase their budgets. Similarly, 30% said radio spending will decrease vs. 16% who said they will increase spending in the medium.

When it comes to allocating media budgets, TV, print and online buyers agreed that audience (defined as reach, composition and engagement) is one of their top three considerations. But in a finding that reveals the extent to which different media are evaluated on an apples-to-oranges basis, the survey found that media buyers' top criteria were different depending on medium. In TV buys, ratings were identified as the primary factor. In print buys, marketers and buyers said they are most influenced by audience. And in online buys, it is the ad results (defined as accountability, effectiveness, return on investment and impact on awareness) that count.

As TV and print continue to improve metrics for ad results, they will become continually important to buyers in all categories, Mr. Lanzano said. "Clients want to know [about ROI]. It's no longer just about eyeballs; it's about what is this ad doing to drive sales?"

But given the market's emphasis on engagement, Mr. Pinkerton said he was surprised survey respondents valued it below reach. "There has been more and more focus on engagement for most of our clients, because getting impact with the one message that you have is much more [effective] if someone is engaged with it," he said. But a lack of consensus about how to define engagement as well the need for varying engagement metrics for different brands still makes it difficult to base deals on, Mr. Lanzano said.

So which medium is the most engaging? Survey respondents said it's print -- yet ranked print lowest for delivering results. Online was ranked lowest for engagement but highest for results, while TV was ranked in the middle for both results and engagement.

Respondents also identified the top media brands for results in online, TV and print as Google, Comedy Central and Food & Wine. The top brands for audience engagement were, the Food Network and Everyday With Rachel Ray.
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