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Study: Masses Still Tuned in to Mass Media

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Even though more than one in three takes little notice of at least one of the top five mass media, consumers still pay greater attention to those outlets than most other venues for marketing, according to a new study from MediaVest USA.

Mary Ellen Vincent, North American research director for MediaVest, a unit of Publicis Groupe's Starcom MediaVest Group, said the research contradicts increasing skepticism among media and client executives about the effectiveness of mass-media advertising. "One often hears of media fragmentation and about how hard it is to reach consumers," she said. "While that's true, people tend to make sweeping statements about the extent to which that's the case."

While traditionally effective means of attracting consumer attention such as word of mouth and sampling got by far the best response, 27 percent of respondents said they are "very attentive" to mass media brand messages vs. 18 percent for non-mainstream media and 10 percent for online (see chart). Respondents paid least attention to banner ads on the Internet and ads in public restrooms, Vincent said. The online poll of 1,119 consumers was conducted in August and September by Knowledge Networks in Menlo Park, Calif.

Thirty-seven percent of respondents fell into the category of "ad cynics," saying they pay little attention to at least one of the five mass media (TV, radio, billboards, magazines and newspapers). But only 6 percent were cynical about advertising across all mainstream media, a smaller group than expected, Vincent said.

The study also found that interest in embracing new media, such as personal video recorders and satellite radio, did not strongly correlate to income or Internet usage, as anticipated, but rather to current tv or radio usage, Vincent noted.

Marston Allen, director of communications architecture for Interpublic Group's Universal-McCann, cautions that the choice between mass media and something more offbeat depends largely on the brand, and guerrilla and viral methods of marketing are difficult to measure effectively. "There are probably some brands that build from the connection outward, where they work to form the connection and then worry about delivering the mass numbers later," he said. "A lot of people want to do interesting work, but they're reticent because most of it isn't easily measurable."

It's not a matter of arguing for mass media over niche formats, said Paul Woolmington, chairman and CEO of independent Media Kitchen, New York. "In general, we employ 'the surround-sound strategy,' which recognizes that people live their lives with a multiplicity of influences, from TV, the Internet, cell phones and so on," he said. "That's what media and creatives need to tap into."