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New insights drawn from a unique and well-regarded study of consumer media behavior may have uncovered some important clues for cracking Madison Avenue’s so-called “media engagement” code, an industry-wide effort to understand how consumers are involved with and influenced by media. The initial findings suggest print media such as magazines and newspapers are far more engaging than electronic media like TV, radio and the Internet, but they also garner far smaller shares of the time consumers spend with media. That paradox suggests that print media may be inherently more valuable for advertisers than more pervasive electronic media, which the study implies are treated like “background” media. But the findings, which academic researchers at Ball State University gleaned from their so-called Middletown Media Studies, stop short of answering Madison Avenue’s most important question: how do consumers engage with advertising content within these media?”The intent of this paper is to see what we have in the Middletown Media Studies that can inform the current discussion about engagement,” said Mike Bloxham, director of testing and assessment for BSU’s Center For Media Design.

Because the Middletown studies directly observe how consumers use media, they are considered a powerful tool for understanding actual behavior that cannot be measured via the kind of survey research typically used by advertisers and agencies to evaluate media. By taking key components of that data, including the amount of time consumers spend with media, but especially the percentage of time they use each medium either exclusively, or as their primary media option, the university’s professors have come up with a rudimentary measure of engagement.

“It’s quite interesting when you put the media alongside each other and look at which medium [plays] the greatest percentage of time in people’s lives as the primary source, or one that is not being shared with others,” explained Bloxham, adding, “That arguably could be one metric that is more or less a measure of engagement. But of course, you have to overlay that with total time spent with the medium.”

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