Marketers Mulling ARF’s ‘Engagement’ Definition

The Advertising Research Foundation (ARF) presented its working definition of “engagement” at its Re:Think conference in New York last week. Marketers are pondering the implications.

The working definition, presented by the ARF’s Chief Research Officer Joe Plummer, is: “Engagement is turning on a prospect to a brand idea enhanced by the surrounding context.”

While the designation met with criticism from some media outlets, most professionals seem to approve of the direction the foundation is taking.

“I am highly skeptical that a metric alone is actually going to change the industry and what we’re trying to do,” said Madeline Hammill, managing director at Market Evaluer who spoke on the panel after Plummer. “I believe that getting our engagement metric is the start of our journey; I hope that it will give us a platform for discussion as an industry.”

Other professionals later voiced their views on the definition and how they’ve approached engagement as a strategy. Nielsen BuzzMetrics CMO Pete Blackshaw calls the definition a good first step. He told ClickZ News, “My sense is that many of the ARF attendees were relieved to see further definition and perspective put on the ‘engagement’ metric.”

“Focusing on the topic of engagement is very appropriate,” agrees Lee Sherman, VP of analytics at Avenue A|Razorfish.

Other opinions remained generally upbeat, with some room for discontent. “I think it was a good statement but it’s overly broad, especially how it applies to interactive media,” Jack Smith, VP of product strategy for 24/7 Real Media told ClickZ News. “What will make it meaningful is if you have the ability to measure and model it.”

Companies like Avenue A|Razorfish and 24/7 Real Media formulated their own means of measurement between the time the term ‘engagement’ was coined and when it was later defined.

“We often look at engagement in how people are behaving, and we look for behavior in media and on Web sites,” said Sherman. “That’s often a good reflection of how people react with the brand.”

He explained Avenue A|Razorfish has a set of tools and technologies to carry out research for clients. “We’ll look at the engagement a visitor has with a particular page,” he stated.

24/7 Real Media defines engagement in three ways: the advertising a consumer sees; the content a consumer views; and any commerce and transactions a consumer has with a brand. “Those three areas will be where the definition of engagement is fleshed out,” said Smith.

The World Federation of Advertisers (WFA) is working to create a standard of measurement in its “Blueprint for Consumer-Centric Holistic Measurement” to provide the industry a standard to work by. Some feel one solution can’t fit all industries and situations.

“It’s going to be hard for an industry to set up a standard metric that we can universally use,” said Sherman. He notes his firm just does work that represents their clients’ needs. Sherman agrees with Smith when he says any definition should have variants to serve different needs. “It could be with different kinds of brands, I think there could be shades of definition, but again, measurability and the ability to model is going to be key,” said Smith.

While there’s agreement the working definition isn’t a complete solution, many have hope for what it promises the industry. “The absolute key is to keep up the momentum on this work, quickly enroll other key stakeholders in the process such as media planners, and aggressively line up ‘reason to believe’ case studies with large clients,” said Blackshaw. “We also need to trust that the road to an effective engagement metric will be dotted with roadkill and misfires. Still, we’re on the right track.”

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