Publishers Offer TV-Like Metrics, But Will Buyers Bite?

The media agency community is starting to get long-awaited audience measurement data that seek to put magazines on an equal footing with TV and the Internet.

This year, Mediamark Research & Intelligence’s AdMeasure began tracking consumers’ recall and response to ads in every issue of 200 individual magazine titles. Time Inc., Meredith, Condé Nast, Hearst, Starcom, OMD and GroupM are clients. On Feb. 15, rival Affinity plans to launch a competing print-ad ratings service, American Magazine Study Print Ad Ratings, that will measure each issue of 125 titles. The hope is that these services will remove an obstacle to advertising in print by letting marketers evaluate them on the same basis as electronic media.

“It’s one of the first things that comes out of our mouth when talking to magazines. We want accountability built into every part of [a plan],” said Jeff Fischer, senior vp, managing director, print activation group, Universal McCann.

Buyers expect the services’ use to vary by client and objective. While companies like automakers and energy companies will be interested in whether readers remembered their ads, packaged-goods companies will focus on action-taken scores. For the latter, said Fischer, that metric is “obviously huge, particularly now, when there’s such a short-term focus on moving product off the shelf.”

But buyers also believe print has been so hammered by the recession that it’s doubtful the data will help grow its market share.

“My biggest challenge right now is trying to keep people in magazines,” Fischer said. “We’ve put a lot of data out there to clients, and it’s really good data. But I’m definitely seeing clients move into TV, into digital, because it’s still the shiny new toy.” Brenda White, senior vp, publishing activation director, Starcom USA, added that, while she hoped print would see additional dollars, “I think that’s going to be more long-term.”

Meanwhile, the transparency the new services promise has created some angst among publishers, who no longer can can hide weaker issues once part of an average six-month audience report. With some buyers already pressing publishers for issue-by-issue rate-base guarantees, issue-specific recall guarantees (and makegoods for issues that fall short) are a logical next step.

Some welcome the scrutiny. The Week is paying Affinity to have all 52 of its issues measured this year for the first time. The data help support a new program that guarantees an advertiser a certain audience recall level.

If that sounds too extreme, one buyer, speaking on condition of anonymity, warned other publishers to take note: “That is the road the industry should be going down. At the end of the day, clients want to see results.”