ARF Model

Making Better Media Decisions

2003 ARF Research Authority

The Committee:
Erwin Ephron
Bill Harvey
Denman Maroney
Bill Moran
Jim Spaeth
Phil Brandon (graphic design)

Executive Summary

“Making Better Media Decisions” is an update of the Advertising Research Foundation’s historic 1961 monograph, “Toward Better Media Comparisons.” It has been revised to include new levels of paid media performance—attentiveness, persuasion and response and to consider new media types, especially online media and Interactive TV. The new model contains eight levels at which media performance can be measured to help marketers plan their advertising campaigns:

  1. Vehicle Distribution. This is a count of physical units through which advertising is distributed. It is a pure media effect. (Current measurement techniques include newspaper and magazine circulation studies, TV and radio tuning studies, online-media page requests, billboard locations.)
  2. Vehicle Exposure. This is a count of the people exposed to the media vehicle whose eyes or ears are open. It too is a pure media effect. (Current measurement techniques include radio and TV-people ratings, magazine-readership studies, online media page-view counts, billboard-traffic counts, etc.)
  3. Advertising Exposure. This is a count of the people exposed to the media vehicle who also are exposed to its advertising. It is the highest level of measurement that is still a mostly pure media effect. (Current measurement techniques include radio and TV commercial-audience ratings, print ad page-exposure studies, online ad-view counts, billboard-traffic counts, etc.)
  4. Advertising Attentiveness. This is the degree to which those exposed to the advertising are focused on it. It is the first measurement level at which the effects of the medium are significantly confounded with the effects of the creative. (Current measurements include dedicated attentiveness studies, recall or campaign tracking studies, brainwave research, etc.)
  5. Advertising Communication. This is a measure of the information retained by the consumer after exposure to the message. (Current measurement techniques include advertising and brand awareness tracking, copy testing/recall, advertising recall studies, etc.)
  6. Advertising Persuasion. This is a measure of the shift in intentions produced by Advertising Communication. Here we are interested in the medium’s ability to frame the message in ways that make it more credible, more relevant and hence more persuasive. (Current measurement techniques include advertising tracking, copy testing, intent to purchase, willingness to consider, etc.)
  7. Advertising Response. This refers to measures of consumer response short of sales. Examples include visiting a showroom, calling a toll-free number, clicking on an online ad, requesting a brochure, etc. In direct mail and interactive media, such responses can be measured directly. (Current measurement techniques include clickthrough, post-click-through interaction, lead generation, telephone and mail response, coupon redemption, etc.).
  8. Sales Response. This is purchase of the advertised product or service in response to the advertising. Of all the measures listed, it is the most relevant to the advertiser, but the least dependent upon advertising and media effects. In addition to sales, useful measurements include Return on Investment (ROI), which is the profitability of those Sales generated by advertising, and Consumer Lifetime Value (CLV), which is an estimate of the future profitability of a newly acquired customer. (Current measure-ment techniques include sales tracking, test markets, single-source panel research, and marketing-mix modeling.)

The way advertisers think about media has changed in the last forty years. Direct Response advertising, The Internet and Interactive TV have expanded media’s job from simply exposing a message to include encouraging and facilitating a response. The concept of recency has focused marketers on advertising’s contribution to making the next sale. And more and more, it is on response that media are being judged.

We believe that media measurement has no choice but to follow media’s newly expanded purposes.


This is a new edition of the 1961 ARF monograph Towards Better Media Comparisons. It acknowledges the changes in advertising theory and practice that have occurred since the original publication was issued 40 years ago.

Specifically, it includes new levels of paid media performance—response and interaction—and considers new media types, especially online media and interactive TV.

It relates the old model to today’s practice of media planning by introducing the concept of recency.

It encourages the use of the industry’s new measurement capabilities, such as scanner data and marketing-mix modeling, to help establish measurements of media value at the response as well as the exposure level.

It includes costs more explicitly in the media calculus.

Those are the new elements, but the original purpose remains: to encourage media planners and buyers to use explicit estimates of performance in choosing media, replacing feelings, last year’s plan or common practice with measurements. In short, its goal is to advise advertisers and their agencies on what measurements to use to make better media decisions.

The measurements recommended are tied to eight stages of media performance. The first three stages—Vehicle Distribution, Vehicle Exposure and Advertising Exposure—describe advertising stimulus. The last five—Advertising Attentiveness, Advertising Communication, Advertising Persuasion, Advertising Response and Sales Response—describe consumer reaction. Although at these last stages, non-media factors like the creative execution dominate, the recommended measurements attempt to isolate media’s contribution.

Media merit this separate consideration because of their cost, complexity and importance to the advertising process. Explaining the total process is left to a future initiative, with the goal of integrating this media segment into that larger model.

The only media considered here are those paid by advertisers to carry commercial messages.

The New Media Model

new-media-model chart

This picture of the model shows the eight levels at which media performance can be measured as eight segments of a helix seen from above.

The segments are numbered and colored in increasing order of advertising relevance. In this example the relative sizes of the slices suggest the relative numbers of people involved at each level.

The number of people who buy the advertised product (Sales Response, segment 8, colored red) is smaller than the number persuaded by the advertising (segment 6), which is smaller than the number attentive to the advertising (segment 4) and so on.

The number of people exposed to the vehicle (segment 2) is usually larger than the number of vehicles in circulation (segment 1), since more than one person is likely to read a copy of an issue of a magazine or watch a TV set tuned to a TV program.

The picture is not meant to suggest that the levels are necessarily consecutive; beyond advertising exposure, they need not be. Rather, it simply is a way of laying them out in an easily observable format for purposes of comparison.

A General Survey

Whenever money is spent on advertising, a decision is made about the way it will be allocated among media. Given adequate information about the product, the market and the media, it ought to be possible to determine the best possible allocation. Our present problem is to describe those measurements that will facilitate the advertiser’s task. Continue reading.