IPG Media Lab’s Kara Manatt: What Drives Content?

By Media Insights Archives
Cover image for  article: IPG Media Lab’s Kara Manatt: What Drives Content?

Kara Manatt, Vice President Consumer Research Strategy for IPG Media Lab, is in the epicenter of advertising receptivity research at the agency. Her department, which is the creative technology arm of IPG Mediabrands, conducted research for 74 brands globally, representing over 20 studies and covering 749,000-plus interviews. “I fell into research,” she confides. “It was not part of my career plan.” But one of her professors encouraged her to go to graduate school where she attained a Masters in Social Psychology and from there, she says, “research was a natural fit.” In this interview, Kara talks about her work at IPG, the surprising results of some recent research studies and insights regarding viewability. 

Charlene Weisler: Tell me about the type of research you currently do.

Kara Manatt: While our goal is always to help inform better media buying decisions, my team’s work tends to fall into two buckets. First, we aim to answer our clients’ toughest questions as they relate to advertising effectiveness and changing consumer behaviors.  For example, we recently conducted a first of its kind, scientific study on viewability. Other topics include the importance of contextual relevance in ad effectiveness, determining what consumers really want and expect from ad personalization, and developing a deeper understanding of ad avoidance behaviors. The second area of focus is on understanding the effectiveness of emerging ad products and strategies. We serve as a testing ground of sorts for new ad product innovations.  We’ve found that the best way to foster innovation for our clients is to bring the testing in-house.

Charlene: What type of research applications do you use?

Kara: We aren’t beholden to any specific approach or methodology.  Every project we work on is different, so we customize our approach to answer the questions at hand.  That may include more traditional research approaches, but more often than not we are incorporating next generation technology into our studies.  Obviously, technology has drastically changed media, and we believe that same technology should change the way we measure it.  Because of this, we’ve even built our own tools to track consumer responses, such as ad avoidance, attention and emotions.  I will also say that keeping true to experimental design, which is the most rigorous form of testing, is extremely important.

Charlene: Are you working on any cross platform studies?

Kara: We’ve done a number of cross platform studies in the past and they will be an integral part of our work moving forward as well.  Our past studies have focused on understanding how consumers experience various platforms and how those experiences translate into ad effectiveness.  We’ve also explored best practices around the ideal timing for cross screen re-targeting and message sequencing across screens.  This year, we plan to focus quite a bit more on newer platforms, such as OTT or connected TV.  Our clients want to know more about connected TV’s role in the media mix.

Charlene: Is there anything that you have found through your research that surprised you?

Kara: Yes. Our studies are fairly comprehensive, so there’s almost always something surprising.  Those tend to be the most fun studies as well -- when I’m wrong about a lot.  In a recent global study on branded content, I had several hypotheses in which I was proven wrong.  Going into the test, I thought that entertainment would be one of the biggest drivers of effective branded content.  It turns out that entertainment is really just table stakes.  There are many other aspects of branded content that are much stronger drivers of success.  For example, offering consumers valuable information in a way that is trustworthy and authentic for the brand.  Another recent surprise for me was from our research on contextual targeting.  It’s common sense that aligning with contextually relevant content is a good thing.  But, I was really surprised to see the power relevance can actually bring to the table.  The same video ad can perform dramatically differently based on the type of content it is next to.  We saw a 63% increase in purchase intent simply by being next to contextually relevant video content.  That is fascinating to me.  Context can completely change the way consumers internalize ads.

Charlene: Is there a general rule to maximize effectiveness?

Kara: Having any sort of contextual relevance is a good thing, but I think the rules vary by industry vertical and your campaign objectives. For example, if you are a brand who has invested in creating ads that are aimed at eliciting emotions, you should be thoughtful about where you place those ads. Will an emotional ad work harder if you run it against emotional content? In general, no. It must be emotionally congruent. Run a happy ad next to happy, uplifting content.   So again, the general rule is context matters, but to truly maximize effectiveness, you have to treat each campaign differently.

Charlene: Trafficking ads on TV in order to better match context seems to be very difficult to achieve. How can an agency help networks make the right match?

Kara: Our recent test was with digital video and that technology does exist.  We worked with a company called Zefr to match ads with the right content on the digital platform. Their technology allows you to do this sort of matching at scale. And that brings up a good point: We sometimes have cool ideas, but decide against working on them if they can’t actually translate into something brands can truly take advantage of in the market at scale. TV has less flexibility at the moment, but as it evolves, we should be able to try out these same concepts in the living room.

Charlene: Have you done any research on viewability and, if so, what did you find?

Kara: Yes, we recently conducted a large scale research project on viewability in partnership with Cadreon and Integral Ad Science. [Here are two conclusions]: 1) At a high level, there is a strong relationship between viewability and ad effectiveness -- that is, as viewability increases, so does consumer attention and ad recall.  2) Of the two dimensions of viewability, time in view is more important than the number of pixels in view. They both play a role, but again, time in view is a stronger driver in effectiveness.

We also explored what advertisers can do to have bigger impact even at lower levels of viewability. For one, they can take simple steps such as placing their logo at the top of the ad. When the logo is on top, it makes a big difference at lower levels of viewability. Advertisers can also run their ads on less cluttered pages and run video in places where consumers are more likely to have the volume on.

Charlene: Can you give me some predictions as to how you see the media landscape evolving in the next 3-5 years?

Kara: Some of the changes that are most exciting to me are changes that will take place in the living room with TV.  We are moving to a more flexible programming grid that will allow for more feed-based discovery.  This will be really exciting for brands because it means their custom curated content can appear next to popular TV shows.  Changes in the TV landscape also mean we will be able to do more media buying based on audiences instead of shows.  We will see the full flexibility of digital, including interactive ads in the living room.  From a research perspective, these changes are what I’m really looking forward to.

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