Research is big business in the advertising media industry, and it is fuelled by three primary drivers.
Firstly, the requirement for the media owner to provide accountability for the media estate that they own.
Secondly, for the advertising agency to capture insight which gives them a specific and valued viewpoint.
Finally, for the client to seek an understanding which can be harnessed to improve the communication of their message.
In theory, these three drivers should work in harmony, as the profitability and sustainability of all three parties are closely aligned.
Enter stage left Route, the out-of-home audience measurement system. A project funded by the powerful combination of two of these three stakeholders – the media owners through the Outdoor Media Centre and the agencies through IPA Outdoor, to the tune of some £19,000,000 and still counting. That entrance was on 26 February 2013, now one year ago, and yet the show remains firmly stuck in Act 1.
It has taken the last 12 months to introduce all the main cast members, roadside, bus, Underground and train. Indeed, we still await the arrival of some important character parts – retail, airport and pedestrian environments.
Further additions such as leisure and taxi audiences are expected to follow in 2015. This is not to say that the show has gone wrong. Make no mistake, this is a huge, ambitious and ground-breaking piece of work. And in the field of "science or technology" it has been recognized as such by the Government, with special status due to the gaining of new knowledge of "big data" collection and analysis
As a result of its complexity, it was agreed that the introduction of Route data into the market would take place in stages. This would allow for the concentration of development resources, for the market to begin to assimilate the data, and as is always the case when there is a requirement for significant business process change, time for people to embrace it.
From what is currently available, we have already identified three valuable principles.
Firstly, the principle of "Enabling Efficiency" by using Route to help select the most appropriate groups of frames for a defined audience within any one format, it is now possible to improve the quantity of impacts achieved. This has long-term implications for demand, supply and therefore pricing of frames against their ability to deliver audience, rather than the proxy legacy of real estate size.
Secondly, the principle of "Driving Planning", because the consistent methodology of Route unveils the true comparative audience impacts delivered within different environments and by different format types. An emotional or subjective preference for one choice over another will need to be qualified by its measured delivery against the target audience in comparison to the alternatives.
Thirdly, the principle of "Authenticating Knowledge" by revealing such facts as, perhaps surprisingly, it is still the traditional billboard which can collectively deliver the greatest audience reach per 1,000 frames out of any individual format.
This research is certainly bringing us new and relevant information. Integration with TouchPoints, which is being developed by the IPA, and further investment into integrated systems will allow Route data to be used alongside other data and additional sources increasing the relevance of the output for all parties.
It will also provide a much improved data source for econometric modelling which has been poorly supplied with inadequate out-of-home data, creating relatively low-grade and therefore less-reliable analysis and forecasting.
As we enter its second year, the stage is now set for Act 2 ,where the industry has the opportunity to bring this data to life. That is to meet the challenge of the fundamental question and actually change planning and trading practices to more accurately reflect our quantified understanding of how out of home reaches audiences.
It is never easy to change established practice and process, but we need to do that before we can applaud ourselves and realise for all the stakeholders the value of our investment.
Mungo Knott is director of marketing and insight at Primesight