If there was only one print vehicle in the country, irrespective of how many people read it, the advertiser had no choice but to advertise in it. In such a scenario, the issue of 'readership' wouldn't count. Fortunately, since liberalisation, competition has become a reality in every facet of Indian life. The upside for the consumer is the 'choice' and the nightmare for the advertiser is the 'fragmentation'.
'Readership' is a measure of the 'headcount' or how many people read a particular media vehicle. And though it is the basis of media planning and buying, it remains just a base factor, a table stake. The task really begins after you determine that readership. Now let's bring in some of the subjective, yet not strictly non-measurable, factors.
An ad is likely to have better noticeability if it is placed in an environment where the reader (consumer) spends more time. It is possible that a particular brand owner may know this based on past experience or an experiment or research that he has carried out, but more often than not these decisions are commonsensical, based on observation.
Many advertisers deliberately use this to exploit the inherent strength of the 'written word'. Readers (who are also consumers) choose a vehicle for many reasons and one of the critical ones is credibility. It is also possible that a reader of multiple titles may attach different levels of credibility to the various titles that she reads.
This is a key differentiating parameter though not thoroughly measured. Many companies measure the response for themselves and there are some vehicles that score much better than other vehicles of same or similar readership. The proof is classified advertising. Categories like consumer durables, educational institutions, real estate and retail use it heavily because they are dependent on responses not just image building.
One of the key reasons for this is that people who are interested in a specific category will spend a disproportionately higher time in the product or service that they are interested in and get all the information that is required to respond. And it does allow people to respond - whether it is just an enquiry or actually writing a cheque to pay for the product advertised.
While readership is the foundation of media planning and buying for print, it should not be used blindly. The decision to choose a print vehicle is best if it is fortified with understanding and experience.
(The author is president and COO of Lintas Media Group)