Sunday, September 16, 2007

The New Math Of Engagement

It seems that a large part of the problem with the concept of “engagement” is in trying to come up with a working definition of engagement.

To date, there doesn’t appear to be a clear winner. At least, not
one that everyone accepts. The most that everyone can agree on is
that engagement must be defined in such as way as to allow it to be

If that’s the case, then perhaps we should approach it from the other way around.

Instead of trying to come up with a definition, and then seeing if we can measure it, what if we started with what digital technology already allows us to measure, and from these metrics, construct a definition of engagement?

It would also help if instead of arguing whether engagement is solely the responsibility of the programmer/publisher or the ad agency, we could agree that engagement is a sum game, the responsibility for which falls on both the programmer and the brand idea that is created by the ad agency.

To keep it simple, we should eliminate any intrusive advertising—pre-roll or in-stream—from the discussion. With pre-roll and in-stream, it’s difficult to tell whether a viewer is engaged with the commercial or not. After all, both pre-roll and in-stream reflect the intent of the advertiser, not the viewer.

If we are going to be able to measure engagement, we need to be able to measure the intent of the viewer.


To measure viewer intent, the viewer needs to be able to initiate the interaction with the brand idea itself, separate from the program that delivers it. This requires the brand idea to be a stand-alone unit. Fortunately, there are an increasing number of methods—from skins to bugs to ticker to overlays to telescoping—that accommodate this.

Allowing the viewer to click-in directly to the commercial would enable us to delineate where the responsibility of the programmer stops and the responsibility of the ad agency begins.

Programmers, after all, should only be accountable for what they have control over - delivering exposure to, not involvement in - the brand idea. At the same time, ad agencies should also only be held accountable for what they have control over – creating involvement in, not exposure to - the brand idea.

Allowing the viewer to initiate interaction with the brand idea does two things:
1. It allows exposure to become a measurement of engagement up to initiation.
2. It allows involvement to become a measurement of engagement after initiation.

Viewer Intent, in effect, becomes the pivot point. Once the viewer has initiated the interaction with the commercial, it signals the transference of accountability for engagement from the programmer to the ad agency.

By giving the viewer the control to click-in, the viewer’s intent will be explicit, and therefore, measurable.

With intrusive advertising, intent is, at best, implicit only.


As a stand-alone unit, the brand idea will have its own set of data points, separate from the program’s data points. This allows measurement of both the program and the brand idea to occur individually. Not only will advertisers know exactly how many came to the program screen and how many watched the program, they will also know how many who came to the program screen clicked-in to watch the brand idea, and the length of time —measured as viewer time-spent–that they spent with the message.

Being able to separately measure both exposure to the program and involvement in the brand idea, would allow us to hold both the programmer and the ad agency accountable for their individual parts of the engagement process.


Engagement, as identified at the start, is a sum game. But besides just context (program) and content (brand idea), a third element, the element of control (intent), is also needed to effectively measure engagement.

Therefore, the new equation would look something like this.

Engagement = Exposure (context) + Intent (control) + Involvement (content)

In this equation, programmers are responsible for exposure and exposure only.

Platform operators are responsible for giving viewers the control needed so that viewer intent can be monitored and measured.

And ad agencies are responsible for keeping viewers involved in the commercial once they have clicked-in.

This equation allows the responsibility for delivering engagement to be spread across all three of the major stakeholders. Because each stakeholder delivers a different aspect of engagement, each can be paid for their unique part of the process.

This new equation also acknowledges the one thing that seems to have been avoided up to now. Engagement is something that can only be initiated by the viewer.

If the viewer’s intent can’t be measured, then neither can engagement.

And the only way that the viewer’s intent can be measured is to give the viewer complete control.

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