Behavior models for media consumption are often as sloppy as an overdressed hamburger.
The more online and mobile video content you load on top of the beefy fundamental base of linear TV, the harder it is to get a good grip on your burger. Take a bite into one side of the data stream, and a dollop of overlooked information dribbles out the other end and down your shirtsleeves.
If teasing out the interrelations between television and online video can be as messy as tucking into a 10-oz. bacon cheddar cheesburger, a new consumer study promises to offer marketers the research equivalent of a gross of wet wipes. Beginning this spring, Starcom is collaborating with Applebee's and media partner NBC Universal to develop a model that defines the relative and combined value of video ads, both on-air and online, in order to gauge their true effectiveness against brand objectives.
Over the course of the next three months, Starcom will measure the performance of Applebee's creative across a number of MSNBC and NBC News properties, including prime-time cable news, the Today show, NBC Nightly News and online at MSNBC.com. Consumer impact will be examined through a number of lenses—one element of the study will assess how media environments inform brand awareness—thereby allowing the agency to establish the relative value of the ads across each platform.
"Applebee's has always been open to trying new things, and so they're an ideal partner for this sort of collaboration," said Karla Knecht, VP/director, Starcom USA. "This is a chance for us to really validate some of the assumptions we have about how TV and online work together to increase the effectiveness of advertising."
Knecht, who has served on the Applebee's account since 2004, added that the study should also provide insight into engagement, specifically as it pertains to variables like daypart. For example, given that Americans spend around 60 percent of their waking hours at work, would an Applebee's spot that runs on MSNBC.com during office hours be of greater potency than a linear ad that appears on NBC Nightly News—presumably after the viewer has already eaten dinner?
"When you think about it, consumers are actually leading this space. What we're looking for is a collective snapshot of their media consumption as it relates to all these different factors," said Bill Leibengood, Applebee's executive director of national marketing. "For all talk of integration, there's really not a lot of good data out there."
Chalk it up to the hubris of the digerati. "There’s a lot of weirdly unfounded arrogance in the industry, a fundamental lack of cooperation," said Mark Marvel, senior director of video monetization, MSNBC.com. "I'm almost ashamed to sit on panels with some of my peers in the digital space, the guys who say they’re taking over and television is dead."
As the Applebee's research continues apace, MSNBC.com is looking to bring representatives from other categories into the mix, a roster that may include at least one packaged goods company, a telecomm advertiser and a pharmaceutical client. "We're going to have a long look at some of the categories that have not done a lot of Web buys to date," Marvel said. "Pharma hasn't done a lot of online spend because of the fair-balance restrictions. QSR is all over cable and broadcast, but they don't buy a ton of news. Part of what this research will do is to drive home the point that advertisers need to be online and in a significant way, no matter their historical buying strategy."
Applebee's is also involved with The Pool, a joint venture between Starcom and VivaKi that looks to establish ad standards on advanced TV, mobile media and social networking sites. That said, the MSNBC.com study is a wholly separate effort. "The Pool is more concerned with formats and lengths. This is more about understanding interaction across the channels," Knecht said.
With Knecht steering Applebee's media, the chain launched its Carside To Go program, a 21st Century reset of the old carhop service, which allows customers to place their order online and then have their food delivered at the curb.
Applebee's current campaign is in support of its Realburger, a menu of nine deluxe hamburgers priced at under $9. Along with pricepoint, the burgers’ size and overabundance of toppings is the key draw, so much so that one of the banners that runs alongside the MSNBC.com video player boasts, "a real burger takes a lot of napkins…and sometimes a sleeve."
That sumptuousness extends to the chain’s media budget. Per Nielsen, Applebee's spent $154 million on ad-supported media in 2008, outpacing rivals TGI Friday’s ($87 million) and Olive Garden ($145 million).