Is the likely buzzword for 2006 among US media and research professionals.

Attendees at the upcoming Advertising Research Foundation annual conference in New York will be invited to propose and debate a definition of 'engagement' - a philosophy that could revolutionize media planning and buying.

The current key media buying metric measures only the number of people who could have seen an ad. 'Engagement' is a yardstick that would define how many people actually paid attention to it ... the Holy Grail of media buyers and sellers alike.

According to ARF chief research officer Joe Plummer: "The industry's research group will lay out a clearer framework of the definition of engagement, discussing different scientific understandings of engagement as well as some validation projects ARF is looking to perform."

Supported by the Association of National Advertisers and the American Association of Advertising Agencies, the ARF's mission is to understand how viewers actually interact with a given advertisement.

However, defining 'engagement' will not be easy. A concise definition of such a vital metric would have taxed even William of Occam. But: "I'm enough of an optimist to believe it's possible," says Plummer.

Thinking beyond the present gross ratings points formula, Plummer proposes a new, more complicated equation that looks at things like brand, media and trust.

While mass media could have much to lose, the industry's adoption of engagement could be manna from heaven for media with smaller audiences that nonetheless enjoy high levels of involvement from consumers.

The ARF convention, branded Rethink 2006, will be held in New York March 20-22.

Data sourced from AdAge (USA); additional content by WARC staff