In any media, while the size of the audience is important, the consumers’ relationship with the media is perhaps equally important. ‘Engagement’ is the buzzword. But what does it really mean?

Is a commuter who is shuffling through FM radio stations in her car just as engaged with her media as someone who is listening to a downloaded podcast by hooking her iPod into the car radio? Who is likely to pay more attention? (This is attention economy, right?). Who is likely to listen through the advertisements? Who is likely to remember the name and message of the show sponsor? Who is likely to be favorably predisposed to the show and the communication that goes with it (she obviously likes the show otherwise she wouldn’t make the effort to download it.)

One way to understand engagement is to realize that all consumers are not equal in value for a brand. If I am a post enopausal woman you may be wasting your tampon advertising on me. However, if I am a teenaged girl trying to figure out what brand to use, the Tampon brand should be willing to pay much more to talk to me. Right? Therefore, a teen chat show on TV makes more sense than daily news. A sex-education video distributed through schools makes even more sense.

Typically, dedicated media like distributed videos, were difficult to manage and measure. You couldn’t tell how much of it was just thrown away. With digital media that problem just vaporizes. A website dedicated to sexual health and teens issues (especially the film or section on menstruation) would be the perfect media to support. What about a regular videocast dedicated to teen sexuality issues - the consumer of this video is willing to pay good money (cost of bandwidth and time) to access the media, hence she is obviously a prize consumer to talk to.

Should the brand be willing to pay more to talk to the girl who is downloading an AIDS information video than the person who is watching a TV sitcom? A typical media manager would argue that the TV sitcom will deliver lower cost per thousand, it is easier to implement and there is no risk in sponsoring the show with the highest TRPs. I fail to understand why “millions of people were ‘exposed’ to our ad” appears to be better than “7,890 teenaged girls interested in finding out more about menstruation saw our ad”, or “11,230 new mothers or soon to be mothers saw our message on baby food or diapers or a nursing bra.”

Here are some engagement paradigms for which advertisers should be willing to put a dollar value to:

The future is at our doorstep. You may soon have a refrigerator which will have the ability to promote beverages to you. The in-home media companies will give away free refrigerators, and multi-media players that are connected through broadband and deliver targeted communications suited to your specific lifestyle and preferences. Like it or not, it will happen. Sooner, rather than later.

The mediascape is on the cusp of dramatic change. The consumer will soon have much more power and will choose what content and what advertising she wants to be exposed to. PC-based digital media centers, TiVOs, Audio and Video Podcasts, on-demand media, all forms of blogs, social media… are all current realities. The media consumer is empowered like never before and the trend is likely to intensify. The media and the advertisers who do not find ways to engage the empowered consumers are likely to be history!

First published on April 26, 2006