New Starch® Report Discredits Link Between Magazine Engagement And Ad Success

-- Creative Advertising is King… Regardless of Reader Involvement with Magazine -- 

NEW YORK, May 22, 2006 –  Debunking the conventional wisdom, a new report conducted by Starch® Communications, a division of GfK Custom Research, North America, disputes the belief widely held in many advertising circles that ads in magazines with thorough, passionate and frequent readers are more likely to be noticed and read than ads in magazines with less “engaged” readers.

According to the report The Myth of Reader Engagement:  “Advertising readership and engagement with a magazine are mutually independent phenomena. . . . Advertisements in magazines with relatively large, committed audiences are not more likely to be seen and read than ads in magazines with less committed audiences.” The report also found that the key to advertising effectiveness is the creative content of the ad.

“Ads, like individual human beings, vary widely in ‘talent’ and it is that talent – their creative makeup – that is the most important factor in determining whether they are seen and read, not the vehicle that transports them,” according to Philip W. Sawyer, Sr. Vice President of GfK’s Starch® Communications Research division.

The report compares “Noted” scores (the percentage of readers who remember having seen an ad) of advertisements within both high- and low-engagement publications and reveals a remarkable consistency of performance across all publications, regardless of the level of reader engagement.  The report claims: “Readership data indicate that ads appearing in low-engagement publications do not suffer from the environment and ads in high-engagement publications are not granted any great advantage because of the nature of the publication.”

Only four publications of 25 studied met the high-engagement criteria which are defined by:

  • More than 70% of respondents typically read three or four of four issues
  • More than 60% say they spend 45 minutes or more reading the publication
  • More than 60% say they read more than half or almost all of the publication
  • Only two publications met the low-engagement criteria which are defined by:
Fewer than 70% read three or four out of five issues
  • Fewer than 50% spend more than 45 minutes reading the publication
  • Fewer than 50% read more than half the publication

The rest of the studied publications fell somewhere between the two levels of engagement extremes.

The report selected three high-engagement publications and focused on readership scores of one-page, four-color ads of a single product category that appeared frequently in the publication. Contrary to the expectation that the ads in those high-engagement publications would cluster in the high range (noted by more than 60% of readers), scores of the ads varied widely and consistently from very low scores (below 40%) to very high (above 60%), thus negating the notion that high-engagement publications offer an advantage to their advertisers. 

For comparison, two low-engagement publications were selected and, again, the report focused on readership scores of a single, abundant product category. The distribution of scores for the ads in the low-engagement publications essentially mirrored those in the high-engagement publications. Moreover, median and mean scores for the ads were very similar across all publications, regardless of the levels of engagement. 

To explain why different levels of engagement with a magazine do not correlate with different levels of engagement with the ads within it, the report offers this hypothesis:  “Reading, it is clear, is a unique – and uniquely engaging – activity. It requires thought, relatively high levels of deliberation, judgment, memory, discrimination, and active evaluation. Thus it would appear that the majority of individuals, who pick up, open and begin reading a magazine have crossed the engagement threshold and, it seems, are sufficiently engaged to respond to the advertising in the publication.”  

For a complete copy of “The Myth of Reader Engagement” report please contact us.

About Starch® Communications Research…

A division of GfK Custom Research, North America, Starch® Communications is the leader in print ad readership measurement.  Their in-person research methodology combines a unique blend of proprietary insights with an extensive print ad database and provides clients with a better understanding of their target markets and audiences.

About GfK Custom Research, North America…

Headquartered in New York, GfK Custom Research, North America is part of The GfK Group.  With home offices in Nuremberg, Germany, The GfK Group is among the top-five market research organizations in the world.  Its activities cover five business divisions: Custom Research, Retail and Technology, Consumer Tracking, Media and Healthcare.   In addition to 13 subsidiaries in Germany, The GfK Group has more than 130 subsidiaries and affiliates in 61 countries.

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