Rejoice. You can now cite proof that a media placement has the same effectiveness as advertising. But not more than that – at least not yet.
In a new Institute-sponsored study entitled “Exploring the Comparative Communications Effectivess of Advertising and Media Placement,” David Michaelson (David Michaelson & Co., LLC) and Don W. Stacks (University of Miami) designed an experiment to test a long-held, oft-repeated assumption. Namely, that editorial coverage generated through public relations has greater value than equivalent advertising – some practitioners claim three or more times greater.
The researchers (following their own pilot study in 2004, which was sponsored by PRtrak, now part of VMS) “created” a new product for this experiment to eliminate pre-existing biases about specific brands. The product was a snack food called “Zip Chips” with no sodium or fats. A print ad and a news article were developed with parallel messages.
These materials were tested in five mall locations across the US. A sample of 351 adults who read a newspaper at least once a week was divided into three groups: those exposed to advertising only, those exposed to the news article only, and a control group. A questionnaire was used to determine if editorial coverage and advertising perform differently on key measures ranging from credibility and brand image to purchase intent.
The researchers found no statistically significant differences on almost all measures: brand recognition, message believability, overall interest or consumer preference. The article readers, however, perceived that they had received more information than the ad readers. The article also scored better on measures of whether the respondents thought they could personally relate to the product.
Should we be disappointed that public relations did not score higher than advertising on more measures? The researchers say that the results reinforce the importance of delivering product messages through a variety of channels. With PR-generated publicity being the clear equivalent of advertising, it may be cost-effective to shift more resources to public relations.
Also, keep in mind that the experiment involved one exposure for a consumer product. What about situations involving multiple exposures? What if it’s not a consumer product, but a corporate reputation or public policy issue? What if the messages are not equivalent, or interactive media are involved?
Michaelson and Stacks say we should stay tuned for more research in this area.
President and CEO
Institute for Public Relations