WE ARE NOT ALONE
Cosmology is as Confused as Advertising
By Erwin Ephron
Spielberg is right. We are not alone. Watching “Close Encounters” followed by reading the NY Times science section has convinced me that Physicists are just as mystified as Advertisers. “Dark Energy” is their “Engagement.”
Notice the similarities (NY Times). “The term doesn’t mean anything,” said David Schlegel of Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory . . . “It might not be dark. It might not be energy. The whole name is a placeholder for the description that there’s something funny that was discovered eight years ago now that we don’t understand. Not that theorists haven’t been trying . . . its just nonstop article after article after article.”
Engagement aside from being dark, also makes good copy. An advertising trade search for the word shows 2,748 articles. Google, with its less focused eye, counts “about 5,680,000.”
VOLUME AND VAGUENESS
Such volume and vagueness is understandable in advertising but why in physics? It turns out the existence of Dark Energy is necessary to fix the inconsistencies in their model of the universe, just as Engagement in needed to fix our model of advertising. They are both the wild cards that let us claim to understand what’s happening.
But Engagement as a placeholder has been badly abused. Instead of being allowed to grow into a useful tool like targeting or Reach and frequency, it has become the bumper-sticker for any new measurement pretending to provide advantage.
Every media association from OAAA to TVB has issued its own take on why its medium engages best. Every industry planner has added a pillar or post. Here are a few of my favorites.
Max Kalehoff from his own engagement blog. “I spent a great deal of time over the past few years pondering what engagement meant in the advertising world. And I wasn’t alone. Everyone knew that traditional mass-marketing models based on reach, frequency and impressions were losing traction, and this new dimension of engagement seemed a promising evolution.
“But those days have ended, it seems . . . I haven’t updated the blog since Jan. 5, and few have noticed, let alone pitched me for coverage or left a comment . . . The engagement initiative, starting with its definition, has suffered from some ambiguity, an excess of biased interpretation and lack of patience.”
Next, Joshua Chasin ofWarp Speed Marketing, Inc. post-posting Max. ”I remain convinced that engagement is best defined as “that ephemeral quality shared by all advertising that is judged, after the fact, to have worked.”
Roderick White of World Advertising Research Center adds this thought: “My impression, from the sidelines, is that it’s moved, but in no useful direction, recently. The word engagement has become standard currency, but without any very clear agreement as to what it means: different people are still using it to mean just what they want it to . . . the specific media measurement that the ARF set out in search of seems to be as elusive as ever… and the existing ARF definition, while ingenious, doesn’t seem to do the job.
ENGAGEMENT IS THE SUM
Finally a few paragraphs from my own Blunt Pencil column: “Engagement should be thought of as the sum of all measurable variables that significantly affect the probability of viewer response to the ad message . . . It is every bit as much about the mechanics of message delivery as it is about content.
"An engaging ad can be crippled by an inattentive audience, just as an attentive audience can be wasted on a hapless ad. To manage advertising, we need to know the individual contributions of media (in facilitating) and advertising (in achieving), response."
Our idea of Engagement is like Dark Energy. Dark, as used by cosmologists is not dark as in dim or unlit. There is no helping flashlight. It is dark as in unknown. Dark is appropriate for how we use Engagement because in research dark is the ultimate semantic surrender.
It is our inability to define what we are talking about that makes Engagement dark and troubling. Engagement should be a principle (or several principles) that improve advertising response and can be tested.
Over the past three years I’ve learned al least one thing about Engagement. We won’t confuse it with Accountability.
- April 3, 2007 -