Investigating intangibles can be valuable

Until recently, advertisers who sponsored a tv program or special had little way of knowing whether their incremental media investment was worthwhile.Of course, they could look at the audience numbers. If large numbers of viewers watched the program, at a reasonable...

Until recently, advertisers who sponsored a tv program or special had little way of knowing whether their incremental media investment was worthwhile.

Of course, they could look at the audience numbers. If large numbers of viewers watched the program, at a reasonable cost per thousand, that might well be considered a measure of its success.

They could also gauge its effectiveness by measuring sales results, the number of responses to a contest, or the number of calls to a 1-800 line, in the days and weeks following the program.

Attitude

But determining precisely how an advertiser’s sponsorship of a particular television program or special affected a consumer’s attitude towards that sponsor – presumably one of the principal benefits of sponsorship – has traditionally been somewhat more difficult.

Patrick Walshe, vice-president of Toronto-based media buying giant Harrison Young Pesonen & Newell, frames the issue this way:

‘Sponsorships cost more than just going and buying a whack of spots,’ Walshe says.

‘If there is a premium attached to buying a sponsorship, does something happen back to the advertiser that justifies that price, beyond a straight cost-per-thousand, cost per [gross rating point?]‘ he asks.

‘In other words, what does it mean to customers and potential customers when they see an advertiser associating their name with something that might be of interest to them?’

Greater accountability

Drew Williams, director of marketing at CTV Television Network, says changes in brand image and customer attitude are precisely the types of things his network’s research department is trying to measure, in response to advertiser demands for greater accountability.

‘We saw there being value in finding out more about the intangibles, the subtleties,’ Williams says.

‘To get a sense of what sort of attitudes are prevalent going into [the program], and what sort of attitudes are prevalent coming out,’ he says.

Viewer surveys

Over the past 18 months or so, the network has commissioned upwards of a half-dozen viewer surveys from Toronto-based research firm Goldfarb Consultants, as part of a comprehensive package being offered to sponsors who participate in the network’s tops program.

(tops stands for Total Optimization of Premiums and Specials, and represents ctv’s efforts to go beyond the straight selling of airtime. The program has been running for about four years.)

The surveys, which are customized according to the marketing objectives of each sponsor, usually involve between 200 and 1,000 respondents, depending on the depth of the research and the number of markets involved, says Katherine Minton, manager of research at ctv.

So as not to bias the respondents, Minton says the survey is conducted under the guise of program research.

Planning to watch?

An interviewer will telephone viewers, for example, and ask whether they are intending to watch a particular program.

If they respond positively, the interviewer will ask whether he or she can call them back the day after the show to get their comments.

It is only after asking general questions during the followup call about the show’s appeal that the survey turns to the subject of corporate sponsorship and the nature of the sponsor’s involvement.

‘Better impression’

Respondents are asked the extent to which they agree with statements like, ‘I feel I get a better impression of a company when it sponsors an entire program or special,’ and, ‘When a company sponsors a special, I tend to think of them as a market leader.’

The interview then progresses to questions about the sponsor’s involvement, with questions such as, ‘In your opinion, how appropriate was it for [the sponsor] to sponsor this type of program?’

Williams says ctv decided to offer advertisers an opportunity to take part in custom research to make the network’s sponsorship pitch that much more attractive and to prove its assertion that sponsorships deliver ‘more bang for the buck.’

‘High gear’

Although the network’s first research project took place nearly two years ago on behalf of Xerox Canada, which sponsored a series called Towards 2000 in support of its corporate repositioning as Xerox, The Document Company, Williams says it has only been in the last year that the network has gone into ‘high gear.’

ctv has since commissioned surveys on behalf of Kraft General Foods, Craven A, Ford Motor Co. of Canada and Amex Canada, in addition to an omnibus survey on behalf of the sponsors of the 1994 Winter Olympics in Lillehammer, Norway. (McDonald’s Restaurants of Canada was the principal sponsor.)

Williams says the network has several more research projects lined up, including two surveys on behalf of sponsors of Christmas programming and one for an unnamed sponsor of Scarlett, an eight-hour sequel to Gone With the Wind.

Asked whether clients are requesting this type of research to support their sponsorship commitment, Williams says, not specifically, but all advertisers are asking for greater accountability, and ‘the more you do it, the more you set a precedent, the more it is expected.’

James McPhedran, director of advertising and membership rewards at Amex Canada, which sponsored a television special last December by Quebec singer Celine Dion, says his company probably would have committed to the sponsorship with or without the survey, but ctv’s research offer made it ‘that much more of a solid opportunity.

‘Obviously, the objective in advertising is to maximize your effectiveness,’ McPhedran says.

‘Benefit’

‘That’s a difficult thing to do, but any way you can measure that is going to be of benefit to both you and your media spend,’ he says.

Amex used the special, entitled Celine Dion: The Colour of My Love, to launch new creative promoting its Front of the Line program.

[The Front of the Line program allows American Express cardholders to get preferential seats to selected theatre, sporting and music events.]

‘It was a perfect match, because the creative [which describes the types of entertainment accessible through the Front of the Line program], fit very well with the nature of the Celine Dion show, as well as the fact that our Front of the Line program was very involved with the Celine Dion tour,’ McPhedran says.

He says the objective was to heighten the visibility of the Front of the Line program within Canada, so that both cardmembers and potential cardmembers would understand the program was a benefit of being a cardmember.

Asked what he was able to learn from the research, McPhedran says the message that American Express gives members preferential access to entertainment events through its Front of the Line program came through loud and clear.

‘Of greater interest’

Also strong was agreement by potential cardholders with the statement ‘The American Express card is of greater interest to me now than it has been in the past,’ he says.

While McPhedran believes the decision to sponsor a program must be carefully considered – he notes sponsorships are best used to launch a product, to launch creative, or when the program’s viewers are demonstrably consistent with one’s customer base – he says there is no doubt that research of this nature is an important factor.

In fact, McPhedran says he has directed his media buying agency to try to obtain more research as part of its media buys.

‘This kind of research is exactly the kind of stuff advertisers need to be able to justify this kind of expense, and I wish there was more of it.’