Why Your Brand Should Understand TV Program Engagement

For what seems eons, advertising has been bought and sold based on eyeballs — audience size and demographic composition. Does your brand need to reach women, aged 18-35, who live in the suburbs? No problem. No wait, actually there is a problem. All programs aren’t created equal, even when viewership and demographics are the same. The fact is that some TV programs are more engaging–much more, and some less–much less. Some authors have recognized the problem, as in the recent “Let’s Kill the CPM” post on Tech Crunch, but few know how to solve it.

Does Viewers TV Show Engagement Matter? (courtesy of Imagocommunity)

Does Viewers TV Show Engagement Matter? (courtesy of Imagocommunity)

TV Show Engagement — What Is It ?

TV show engagement is the degree to which viewers are involved in a program and are sufficiently immersed to understand the plot, characters and storyline (if there is one). Think of your own personal viewing experience:

  • How engaging is the content of the program?
  • Is the program a continuing series?
  • Are you viewing the program alone or with others?
  • Are you viewing because your spouse controls the remote?
  • etc.

All of these factors, plus a myriad of others, directly impact viewers TV program engagement. Engagement is not a measure of audience size. Very popular shows can have low engagement, just as niche programming can have very high engagement. But, as we all know, advertising is still bought primarily on the basis of viewership and demographics.

Does Program Engagement Matter ?

In a previous post, “How Digital & Measurement Innovation is Changing Marketing Accountability,” I discussed new media measurement approaches. From some of these new measurement tools, it turns out that TV program engagement matters a lot. Specifically, Nielsen research (disclosure: I now work at Nielsen) shows there’s a very strong correlation between TV program viewer engagement and ad recall. To put it simply, ad recall is driven not just by the ad creative, but by the program environment it sits within.

Ad Recall -- Highly Correlated to Program Engagement

Ad Recall -- Highly Correlated to Program Engagement

Marketing Analogues — Context Matters

CPG companies spend lots of money researching and defining optimal retail shelf sets:

  • Does my brand have more stopping power on the top or middle shelf ?
  • Should line extensions be grouped together or separately?
  • Do large sizes belong at the bottom or to the right? etc.

Retailers research the “desired shopper experience” and how to design store layout and offering:

  • Do consumers shop the store to the right or left ?
  • Should perishables be at the front or to the rear?
  • What categories should be placed together? etc.

Is there any question that environment and context matter in Marketing? Of course not. So, why shouldn’t the same logic apply to TV advertising and media? Does my ad work better in “Lost” or “American Idol,” based on viewer engagement with these programs? Now you can know.

Implications for Marketers

Marketers can use basic program engagement in several ways.

  1. Improved Efficiency & Effectiveness— With engagement data, your brand should be able to achieve the same overall ad recall and awareness levels, but at lower spending levels. Alternatively, you can deliver higher ad recall and awareness levels for the same spending. Effectively, program engagement data allows you to shift the “GRP vs. Awareness” curve in your favor.
  2. Negotiating Leverage — Program engagement data gives you insight and knowledge–and this translates to power. Now your brand can negotiate not just for guarantees on audience and demographics, but minimum engagement levels as well. Suddenly, your brand benefits from increased insight and understanding of TV program quality.

Sound futuristic? It’s not–all the major U.S. networks–NBC, CBS, Fox, ABC, etc. are using the data, as are many large advertisers. TV program engagement is a new Marketing metric that every Marketer should be aware of if they want to make their advertising and media plans work harder. Who knows, perhaps one day it will even help the networks develop more engaging content…

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7 Responses to Why Your Brand Should Understand TV Program Engagement

  1. […] given medium, which programs are most engaging to consumers ? As I noted in an earlier blog post “What Your Brand Should Know About TV Program Engagement,” consumer involvement with programs varies tremendously, and program engagement is highly […]

  2. Dietmar Kruse says:

    Interesting stuff. There is a lot of research about this which is in many cases contradicting. Where do your data about the correlation of recall and engagement come from? Can you share more detail?

    • beardrs says:

      Hi Dietmar — Thanks for reading the blog and asking the question, which is a good one. The data comes from Nielsen IAG from the U.S. market and has been analyzed over multiple years and by controlling for all other relevant variables. R squared is very high and results are consistent across ad types and categories. As you say, there has been lots of discussion and debate about “engagement” and it’s certainly possible that other definitions could yield a different finding. Thanks again for your comment.

  3. Armin Muench says:

    Dear Randall,
    here is another way of thinking: Use the TV spot itself to determine its target group = those people who go and buy the advertised product after having seen the spot.
    What one needs is a study that measures reactions to the spot, and TV program usage by the same persons.
    That yields an extra set of affinity indices to be used for getting revised cpm rankings, leading to much better focus of money invested on the right consumers.

    • beardrs says:

      Hi Armin — Thanks for reading the blog and taking the time to share your comments. You’re right that what advertisers really want it the ability to link their ad performance to actual business outcomes — e.g. sales and market share. As measurement tools become more sophisticated, it’s likely that the ability to do this will happen by linking viewership data with purchase panel behavior. Short of this, it makes sense to spend your limited TV budget as efficiently as possible, and using TV program engagement data is a good first step in that direction.

  4. […] Program Engagement – TV Program Engagement is a measure of how involved consumers are in a TV program. Is it really a surprise that viewers […]

  5. […] Program Engagement – TV Program Engagement is a measure of how involved consumers are in a TV program. Is it really a surprise that viewers […]

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