Re-defining engagement and effectiveness as we approach 2021

Mark Frain
By Mark Frain | 25 November 2020

In advertising, we’ve long talked about metrics like engagement and attention. 

There’s been lots of debate, plenty of research and studies, but not a lot of concrete action. It’s strange that, in an era when we have access to comprehensive data to help find and reach audiences, there is still a gap in the understanding around the relationship between content and its impact on the advertising environment.

We openly discuss across the triumvirate of advertiser, agency and publisher that all reach and increasingly all video is not created equally, yet TV and video plans looks very much the same as when I entered the industry 20 years.

Answering the brief of “What’s my 1+ Reach each week and what’s the cheapest way to buy it?”

Hopefully we start to move beyond the meeting room chat around this topic and genuinely articulate and action the importance of viewer engagement in enhancing advertising effectiveness. A media plan derived on engagement and attention metrics, wouldn’t that be an achievement for 2021?

That’s exactly why we asked the folks at Nature to undertake a major study on content engagement, viewer behaviour, and the effectiveness of video advertising in the context of broadcast TV – comparing Foxtel to other TV platforms. .

While this research was investigating one type of television environment against another, television of all types set the gold standard for advertising engagement and effectiveness. There is simply no other content platform that can achieve the level of impact when it comes to helping brands reach and influence consumers. What this research sets out to do is to start to establish the metrics and solid evidence that better content supports better advertising.

This research was gold standard – consisting of a range of methodologies of various representative groups. Nature sat down with media buyers, surveyed thousands of viewers, and conducted in-depth interviews. They even applied cutting edge facial recognition technology to track viewer responsiveness to ads, and hooked up sensors to people to track electrodermal activity – to see how engaged people were with the content they were watching.

You can quite safely say that this is one of the most in-depth studies conducted on content viewers anywhere in the world and that’s not part of the sales pitch. It will be part of an ongoing body work from Foxtel and Foxtel Media that captures the essence of a better customer experience, does genuinely deliver a better advertising experience.

The initial research built a comprehensive model for what engagement actually means:

1. Intent: the conscious decision to invest time and attention in content
2. Emotional investment: the level of interest and connection with the content, often connected to the level of commitment to the content
3. Mental focus: the amount of focus and attention required to understand and follow the content
4. Social connection: the context of content as a means to connect with those around you

What the researchers found not only underscores what we’ve assumed about the engagement of paid-for content environments when it comes to viewing and advertising effectiveness. It also puts metrics around those previously intangible measures.

Head to head, Foxtel outperforms other TV on all engagement drivers. Based on viewer feedback, the research found that on average, audiences across Foxtel are 27% more engaged than other TV platforms. This finding was backed up by the implicit measurement of electrodermal activity – which showed that viewers were 11% more engaged while watching content on Foxtel – and this rose to 16% across peak viewing hours.

Engagement in content is all well and good, but it is meaningless for brands unless it has a tangible impact on advertising and the way they think about planning. While we’ve always been confident that fewer ads across a more engaging content delivers better advertiser outcomes – it’s not an easy thing to quantify. Until now. Nature conducted an experiment using the same program, and delivering the same ads for three brands - but across the different ad loads to over 1,000 viewers. What they found was that lower ad loads let to higher brand recall and increased brand perception, with Foxtel performing very well in the mix.

The research reminds us that a media buyer’s job (and an advertiser’s brief) does not just end when they’ve bought reach - the power of content matters, and that more engaged audiences equals better outcomes for brands. This is something that we all know, but now we have solid evidence to back up our assumptions. Would love to see some of the smarter agencies adopt this thinking when they come to plan and buy audiences across screens.

Mark Frain is the CEO of Foxtel Media.