One of the most fascinating aspects of managing multiple media platforms — classified publications, traditional magazines, online services, events, e-newsletters, web publishing,etc. — is assessing the relative engagement consumers have with each platform and measuring the actual impact the advertising has in terms of driving business activity.

Picture 2.pngA few years ago, most conclusions were based on conjecture: we could measure the dickens out of the online usage, but had fewer tools to measure  traditional media. Things have improved on that score — we use 800 numbers to track  leads, and can set up web intercept pages to test the amount of traffic driven onto the web from a print ad, for instance.

One thing we see clearly is that a print advertisement drives more activity than an online listing or ad.  And that, together, a multi-platform approach gives a marketer the most business activity for the most efficient cost per instance of business activity.  We’ll sell it bundled or unbundled, but we know a print ad in the program helps to drive results.

Traditional Media, Engagement & The Internet

In the meantime, we see a lot of research trying to assess the value of one media versus another, or all media in relation to each other.

This week two interesting studies were released and both declare the primacy of old media in terms of engagement and impact.

The issue the research is trying to counter is that consumers are spending more and more time on the Internet than consuming traditional media. It makes sense for advertisers to follow the consumer. Both studies point out that the money that you spend following might not be as well spent.

McPheters & Company, a media consultancy, released a study that proclaimed “TV and magazine ads are far more effective in delivering ROI and consumer recall than Internet ads.” The basic conclusion, after studying 30-second TV ads, full-page four-color magazine ads and Internet ads in standard sizes was that:

“Because different media deliver ad impressions at vastly different rates, this study provides clear evidence that time spent with a media does not translate into value for advertisers,” said Condé Nast SVP of research Scott McDonald in a statement announcing the results of the study.

One of the interesting facts was that 63% of banner ads were not seen. People actually registered 37% of the Internet ads and stopped on slightly less than a third.

Picture 3.pngThe Magazine Publishers of America, an association serving consumer magazine publishers, came at the issue of media consumption a little bit differently, creating a whole new metric for thinking about media: the “Time-Ad Impact Ratio.” What they tried to do was relate the amount of time that consumers spend with media to the amount of impact advertising in that media has on consumers. This ratio is a hybrid data point, put together from the conclusions of two unrelated studies. It’s clever and a little intellectual, and shows that advertising in magazines and newspapers has the highest ratio of ad impact to consumer time spent interacting with the medium.

So traditional media must be doing really well, right?

Uh, right.

Traditional media continue to be a critically important way that consumers get information and entertainment, unquestionably. Each medium has its unique way of engaging with consumers, and the advertising designed for the medium takes advantage of the way consumers are paying attention.

The Internet is not one thing. It’s a whole amalgam of things that are happening at the same time.picture-6

Take the windows open on my desktop now. Three Firefox windows, each with multiple tabs. One is filled with different topics that I’m researching. Another has my social media applications open — Facebook, LinkedIn. Another has tabs with Amazon, WSJ.com, Bloomberg. I’ve got Tweetdeck open. My blog editing software open. And iTunes. I’m downloading a TV show and listening to some music while I work.

Am I engaged?  Utterly. In multiple ways, with the ability to shift between different formats easily.

Am I looking at advertising? Actually, I’m interacting with marketing in a bunch of different ways, each of the messages closely tailored to the kind of task I’m executing.  iTunes is pushing digital content on me. (All of which, by the way, has been traditionally supported by advertising in magazines and on TV.)  I’m looking at some product reviews on Amazon for an accessory product. (Frankly, the better the quality of information supplied by the vendor, the more trusting I am of their product.) I’m also looking for reviews of a couple of movies, in case we get to go out tonight.

Advertising & Engagement are relevant, but have a different economic value in a digital-enabled marketing plan

Here’s my bottom line. We’re in the middle of the biggest economic distruption in generations. Marketers don’t have the  money…not even close…to fund their marketing programs. The high cost items go:  high impact advertising in TV and magazines are at the head of the line.

Is it short-sighted.  You can make that argument.  But the business doesn’t think it has any choice.

The key is that these marketers are still going to get a flow of business activity from all their other digital channels. Not just internet advertising, but their web sites, their digital distribution networks, their own social media activity. They’ll look at this activity and begin to work on making it larger and more efficient.

It does not do away with the need for high-impact, broad-reach advertising. It just decreases the value of that advertising on the margin to the marketer.

Does this mean that there is a sustained price correction that will take place in traditional media, as it settles into a stable position in a multi-platform marketing strategy? I think that might be the case. That puts the onus on all of us who are in the media business to find ways to align our costs with a different value proposition, and to use our core skills in marketing, content creation, community development and customer service to build more value for marketers.