To explode a popular myth, media planning in post-crash Asia is not
conducted using a low-cost mix of Feng Shui and crystal balls. The
reality is that, following the region’s economic meltdown and subsequent
tightening of belts, the focus on accountability and, therefore,
research, has increased, resulting in a far more sophisticated approach
Here we review ten research trends that are sharpening up knowledge of
the world’s most populous region.
Clients in Asia are starting to get much more involved in the 80 per
cent of their advertising budgets that go into media. And research is
the mechanism that they are focusing on. More advertisers are employing
media professionals and are demanding a focus on tools that can be
referenced locally and implemented to deal with their needs.
Fast forward in China
Five years ago, media research in China consisted of a sprinkling of
low-quality services aimed at discovering if the local station had
actually aired any of a client’s spots. A lot has happened since then
and, by the end of the year, China will have close to 4,000
Peoplemeters, three readership surveys with a sample of 150,000, and
three ad-monitoring services supplying data on more than 250 TV
AC Nielsen, MMS, Ipsos-RSL and Taylor Nelson-Sofres are all now
established in China and both Ipsos and TN-Sofres have separate
relationships with CVSC, a major Chinese research company. Such
affiliations are expected to combine the benefits of relationships with
the Chinese, with Western technical expertise. The need for technical
knowledge is clear. However, given that media owners still show little
interest in paying for this research, you can continue to expect
everyone to lose money.
Japan discovers quality techniques
No-one who has had exposure to the marvels of Japanese product
innovation can be prepared for the shock of discovering just how much
work needs to be done to bring media research in Japan up to the level
that advertisers in the world’s second-largest economy deserve. But 1999
is the year when things will start to change. Currently, Peoplemeters
cover only Tokyo, TV advertising monitoring spans three cities, and the
country’s one readership survey is conducted once a year, using an
inadequate diary technique.
Expect to see changes, as the arrival of OMD and MindShare heralds a
greater focus on media and an upgrade of these services.
Print media becomes accountable
For the past 20 years, the key survey measuring readership for regional
print titles in Asia was conducted every three years. The inadequacy of
this has been shown up in the recent times of economic change. The 1997
Rolex owner, measured in the ATMS survey currently still in use, has
probably pawned his watch, and the ten-trips-per-year business flyer is
now using a bus. The realisation of this is pushing all survey providers
to deliver more frequently. The ATMS and ABRS surveys now appear every
two years, and PAX is an annual measure.
Peoplemeters, which measure TV audiences, are widely established across
most markets in Asia, with the exceptions of Japan and IndoChina. The
challenges remaining for meter suppliers are to cover the huge rural
areas currently unmetered and to provide a measure for satellite and
To paraphrase Rupert Murdoch: ’Peoplemeters represent an unambiguous
threat to wildly exaggerating media owners everywhere.’ Channels are
finally facing up to the fact that without ratings you can never move
beyond niche budgets, and 1999 should see cable and satellite channels
properly monitored in Taiwan, Hong Kong, Singapore and the major markets
Return on investment
Increasingly, ’ROI’ is the buzzword in Asia. The growth of interest in
ROI can be ascribed to margin-hungry marketers asking themselves, for
the first time, how much they really need to spend in order to
In Asia’s low cost-per-thousand markets, spend levels used to be driven
by share of voice, and frequency levels rose to great heights. Shampoo
users were courted by ’1,000 ratings a month’ by all major brands. Media
specialists now offer tools measuring the effect of those exposures, to
see if there is a guideline that can take us beyond share of voice.
For example, MindShare has response-modelling techniques, supported by
their Zeus software. APLintas has PAD Modelling, while OMD is using the
European TMP Media Observer technique.
Media specialists fill the knowledge gaps
Major groups like WPP and Omnicom have learned a lesson from the growth
of media independents in Europe and have moved fast to establish media
brands. Recognition of the importance of owning the media high ground in
Asia means that, even in the midst of the region’s economic problems,
this is something of a golden age for media research in Asia, with many
of the old unknowns being tackled and explained.
The influx of software
An increasingly liberalised market for software means media planners now
have to take classes in computing, and bewildered clients are looking up
names like Zeus and Merlin, having emerged from yet another demo. Shrewd
advertisers check not only that agencies have the brochures and
PowerPoint demos for a piece of software, but also that the agency
really knows how to use it.
A sign of the increased focus on media measurement in Asia has been the
trend for hiring media research directors for the region. Zenith did
this first in 1995. Now APLintas, Carat, Leo Burnett, MindShare and OMD
have professional regional staff. Increasingly, these people are
developing original research for Asia, rather than importing techniques
developed for other markets.
Looking at the big picture
A major focus in past years has been the development, or promotion, of
tools to aid the micro elements of media planning. The emphasis has now
switched to the development of macro tools that position media activity
in the context of marketing and sales goals.
TV optimisers and brand allocation systems deliver greater precision in
planning, but do not address many of the real concerns of advertisers,
who frequently view the allocation of budgets across dayparts as an
internal issue for media people.
This focus puts media and understanding media through research firmly at
the centre of the communication process.
Tim Foley is regional research director for OMD, having joined the
company from AC Nielsen where he ran the Hong Kong and China media
business. He has lived in Hong Kong for seven years.