The Annual 2004: The Year in ... Research

David Fletcher sees considerable progress as research attempted to counter the increasingly fragmented media world with new technology. The defining characteristic of our age is oversupply. More brands, more information, more opportunities and more choice than people can cope with.

We wring our hands over media fragmentation and strategise for cut-through at all costs and by any means. We do so using the terms customer, user, shopper and audience; researchers have respondents. But few of us regularly talk of people.

In the same way we think of clients as, well, clients, and rarely see that their world is populated by people, too.

In marketing, research should help us to navigate this multifarious life.

It should simplify the innately complex. Incremental fractal complication is out. So how did we do?

Well, from one angle, 2004 was the year of stating the bleeding obvious.

A trawl through some Campaign cuttings reveals, among other things, research that says people shop near their homes. That women read newspapers, too.

That interminable TV ad breaks diminish recall.

Am I having a pop? No. Apart from the equally obvious point - the fact that people are prepared to pay to find these things out - there are two oversupply-based reasons for why we do these things. The first is that in the perma-audit land of media quantifying, the bleeding obvious is now part of the game. The second is that with an oversupply of options for strategy, anything that gets your channel on the radar has to be good.

We know, because research tells us, that "new news" is a driver of saliency.

If we haven't got that, old news dressed up as new news will just have to do.

From another angle, 2004 was a year of considerable progress, tackling the fragmentation of life head on. Within the media currencies, Rajar announced it would plot a course toward passive meter technology by 2007.

What Kelvin MacKenzie's £66 million damages claim has to do with this is debatable, but Rajar's diligent response (effectively researching the research, assessing the technologies available) and its grace under fire are commendable.

This is a watershed for behavioural research because it is about as non-invasive as you can get. Respondents - sorry, people - don't have to remember a damn thing. The technology takes care of the myriad channels and the methodology implicitly removes the systematic bias of research in which irrational humans are called to rational explanation.

Among the media owners, Sky announced the launch of a panel of 20,000 Sky homes - that's four times the Barb panel - to be able to measure niche channels with greater accuracy and understand better the viewing dynamics in personal video recorded homes. The panel is linked to three Taylor Nelson Sofres purchase panels (home, fashion and impulse) to provide a single-source understanding of how advertising works in a multichannel world.

This will be good work if it is more accessible than the now-defunct ITV initiative TV-Span (a single source with TV set-top boxes in some TNS panel homes), which worked on a similar premise but never quite enjoyed the gravitas at a general learning level or the client penetration at a specific level that was the original promise.

Clients - at least those with the wherewithal - have also realised the potential in partner ventures. In October, Procter & Gamble announced a joint venture with VNU (the owner of AC Nielsen) and Arbitron (one of those wristwatch meter businesses). The panellists will be incentivised to scan purchases and carry a small pager-like device that collects media exposure. According to Steve Morris, Arbitron's chief executive, the goal "is to provide the broadest possible view of the interaction between marketing and media elements".

Among the industry types, the IPA announced its ambition to re-invent the cross-media study with a PDA-based diary that collects location, mood and media in half-hour chunks for different demographic groups across the week. This deserves our support not simply for the prospect of some better-quality data but because it recognises one of the fundamentals of human behaviour that standard research tends to gloss over: not only is the world complex, but we are all of us incredibly multifaceted creatures.

Our attitudes and behaviours differ dramatically from day to day and hour to hour as our context changes, and so too does the relevance of different messages, and with it our receptiveness to all forms of branded communication.

Qualitative research has understood this for rather longer. Even here, we have only recently started to get our act together to dramatise human behaviour in a way relevant both to brand experience and the communications opportunities that meld with it. Millward Brown's Channel Connect may not be the definitive solution, but it's a damn good attempt at understanding the diversity of individual behaviour in a way simple and succinct enough for normal people in ad agencies and marketing companies to grasp.

Admap celebrated its 40th birthday this year. Admap has long been the ad world's A Brief History of Time - on every desk but seldom read. The anniversary issue marks the changes. There's notable progress: some of the esoteric methodologies of only a few years ago - internet concept testing, semiotics, linguistic analysis, ethnography - are now firmly mainstream. It also notes that while advertising pre-testing is still no predictor of selling product, it still delivers the comfort blanket that helps to sell ads. Some people never change.

- David Fletcher is the head of MediaLab at Mediaedge:cia UK

THE 10 BEST INSIGHTS.

1. 3

In the past, the mobile brand 3 had tried to appeal to as broad a spread of customers as possible. This time, it decided to narrow its focus and concentrate instead on young phone users who get excited by technology. WCRS reasoned that the West sees Asia as a continent that embraces and enjoys gadgets, so it created a multidiscipline campaign infused with Asian animation and references - a campaign which was odd and extreme enough to differentiate 3 and leave its rivals looking like a dad at a disco.

2. The Army

The previous "be the best" campaign may have been well-respected and awarded, but it intimidated too many potential recruits, making them think they had insufficient talent to make it in the Forces. Publicis redirected the strategy, repositioning the Army as the ultimate skills provider.

3. Marks & Spencer

M&S realised that women wear different underwear depending on how they feel and what they want from their day. As this is the most private of decisions, shared with few people, it is, M&S argued, the ultimate expression of a woman's femininity. The resulting campaign showed off M&S's range and helped to quash the retailer's reputation as a purveyor of naff knickers.

4. Bounty

Procter & Gamble succeeded in the paper-towel market where others have failed after it realised it needed to convince consumers that Bounty was not just for mopping up spills. Because the product stays strong when wet, P&G argued, it can be used for tougher tasks such as scrubbing sticky surfaces. Thus, the bearded women were born.

5. British Airways

Beset by a swarm of budget airlines, BA decided to keep faith with short-haul. But the key to its success was the decision to compete on service as well as price, using boasts such as "centrally located airports" to attack the budget operations where they were weakest.

6. Virgin Mobile

With only 3 per cent of total market spend, Virgin Mobile decided it ought to assert its uniqueness with extremely edgy, cheeky, confrontational ads that would stick in the minds of youths.

7. Bupa

Bupa was given a new lease of life once it was persuaded to position itself as a complement to the Health Service rather than a rival. The resulting campaign focused on Bupa's care homes, hospitals and nurseries, illustrating the fact the company is more than just a private medical insurer.

8. Volkswagen Diesel

VW had to admit diesels are seen as the car of choice for tree-hugging, sandal-wearing teachers. Following this moment of morbid introspection, there came a proud assertion of what's great about diesels in the form of the "don't forget it's a diesel" campaign.

9. The Guardian

Having seen its share eroded, The Guardian turned to research which revealed that non-readers felt the paper too dry, earnest and dominated by heavy news reporting. The insight was the platform for a humorous multi-discipline campaign emphasising its freshness.

10. Eurostar

Eurostar's performance had suffered at the hands of low-cost airlines. However, it was now operating on a high-speed track, cutting 20 minutes off of its journey time. This was worth shouting about and the aggressive and successful Fly Eurostar print campaign was born.

THE 10 SURPRISING TGI FACTS.

1. Garden stuff

So you thought Britain was an industrial wasteland full of crowded cities and council estates, while the continent was a vista of unspoiled scenery. But did you know that more than 83 per cent of adults here have a garden, whereas in France it's just over 50 per cent, in Germany it's one third and in Spain it's little more than 20 per cent? No, of course you didn't.

2. Full-time employment

The benefits of full-time employment are seemingly endless. When you've got a job, you've got a regular wage, access to stationary, paid holiday entitlement, sometimes even a car parking space. You're also 40 per cent more likely than the average adult to notice advertising on petrol pumps/nozzles. Aren't you the lucky ones?

3. Fledglings

These are people aged between 15 and 34, who are still living with their parents and don't have any children of their own. I suspect you think these people are sad. You'd probably cross the street to avoid them, wouldn't you? But if you just had the decency to talk to a couple of fledglings, they'd tell you that they are 22 per cent more likely than the average 15- to 34-year-old to listen to more than 15 hours of commercial radio a week. Shame on you.

4. Choco-fatties

It would seem that fat Britain is in denial - more than a quarter of people who eat more than two chocolate bars a week consider their diet to be very healthy. Poor, deluded fools.

5. BMW

BMW owners are twice as likely as the average adult to play golf. Can we therefore assume that the BMW is the car of choice for that breed of executive that has risen so high up the corporate ladder they no longer do any real work?

6. University challenge

If you thought clever young people were hard to target, you'd be right. Recent graduates are 41 per cent less likely than the average adult to "especially choose to watch" University Challenge. Who'd have thought it?

7. Cinema fact

If you thought the medium of choice for 11- to 19-year-olds was text, the internet, Channel 4 or late-night cable porn channels, you were wrong. It is actually good old cinema.

8. Good news

Today's youngsters have retained their innocence. Here's the proof. Apparently, the most admired individuals among 11- to 14-year-olds are Will Smith and JK Rowling. Oh, and Eminem.

9. Teen phones

A massive 71 per cent of 11- to 19-year-olds have their own mobile phone. This is up from 42 per cent in 2000. What on earth does an 11-year-old need a mobile phone for? Do the words "thin", "skulls", "radiation" and "penetrate" mean nothing to you people?

10. Welsh alcoholics

Adults living in Wales are 92 per cent more likely to drink 14 pints or more of draught lager a week than the rest of Britain. We don't know why. Maybe Wales has been spared this country's current fascination with wine bars, alcopops and heroin. Who can say?

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