As many of you know, the theme of the recent iMedia Agency Summit was Engagement: The New Reach. Interestingly, the AAAA's is calling engagement the new frequency. I have tried to read and study about this new "metric" for the past couple of years, especially in the last six months as it has gained momentum. While it is clear that engagement is a really cool word to use to describe communication and involvement of the campaign with the consumer, it feels more like a psychographic word than a metric and its place is not up at the reach and frequency level.
As just one example, the ARF's media model for communication looks like this:
- Vehicle distribution
- Vehicle exposure
- Advertising exposure
- Advertising attentiveness
- Advertising communication
- Advertising persuasion
- Advertising response
- Sales response
Advertising exposure is the line that reach and frequency reside on. Engagement is probably a good thing to put a little further down the line, but it is not logical that you can be engaged with an ad unless you have been exposed (OTS or opportunity to see) first. So, the question is whether engagement belongs down with attentiveness, communication, persuasion or response.
A year ago, before there was much in the way of definition for engagement, I heard Erwin Ephron speak on this topic at OMMA East. Mr. Ephron, who knows more than a little bit about this (some call him the founder of modern media planning), said that we should look inside at our current metrics and information available before we throw everything out and start over. I agree with him.
For example, he indicates that we could measure TV through bringing together the following variables: size of the unit, clutter, situation and relevance.
It seems, though, that it involves more. And indeed, by examining his ebook of essays, "Engagement Explained (and That's Not Easy)," available from his website, Mr. Ephron does agree that more than media must be taken into account. "Media engagement and advertising engagement are very different things." He goes on to say that "Historically, media are measured by audience delivery. Advertising is measured by response. Engagement-based ratings would measure media by response." Confused as to how that would work? There's more.
Mr. Ephron goes on to say that "To sensibly include engagement in planning we have to combine media research, which measures the size and nature of the audience, with creative research which measures response to specific brand advertising." This means that each and every client must do their own research benchmarking their creative efforts-- something that some clients do some of the time, but very few do for all media all of the time, and which is an expensive and time-consuming proposition.
It is clear that the context and relevancy of advertising is important. And, the effectiveness of the advertising is such a huge variable that one cannot simply expect that we can develop engagement metrics for the media and be done with it. As Mr. Ephron quotes FCB's Roger Baron: "If you want engagement, make a more engaging ad."
One thing is clear, the working definition, which is that "engagement is turning on a prospect to a brand idea enhanced by the surrounding content" is not enough. The relevancy of the message and the appropriateness of the content will have something to do with it.
Mr. Ephron has done a good job of trying to explain engagement and make an argument for how we might measure it. But no matter how cool and logical the concept is, it remains elusive. It's like the psychographic research done in the '70s and '80s. In the end, people were unable to explain to researchers how they felt from an inner standpoint about a product or service. The term is still around though, because it sounded cool. Today, marketers use it to describe sociographic or lifestyle aspects of a consumer.
There is no question that the industry needs to step up to the plate with new metrics. I cannot imagine that it will be a one-size-fits-all solution. In the future, the complexity of media will result in companies doing much more media and communications research than they have done in the past.
But will engagement be the new reach? Doubtful. It cannot be rationalized as the new frequency either. It's a great term to use when explaining how the campaign is going to work. ("We are going to engage the consumer with this campaign, our advertising will be engaging, et cetera.). But it belongs more on the line of effectiveness of the communication in the ARF model, not as a substitute for advertising exposure metrics.
David L. Smith is CEO and founder of Mediasmith, Inc., a San Francisco-based media agency. Read full bio here.