Media: All about ... Media trade audience research

How do industry bodies try to sell their audience, Alasdair Reid asks.

Reading a paper changes you. That is what the Newspaper Marketing Agency would have you believe, with this shamelessly confident statement being the opening salvo in the agency's latest promotional initiative, Emotional Connections.

Reading a newspaper doesn't just change you. "You feel better for it," the brochure continues, using such a big typeface that you begin to suspect this is aimed principally at the partially sighted.

And, of course, the NMA is right. Up to a point - that point being, for example, most front pages of The Independent, the letters page of The Daily Telegraph or any campaign whipped up by the opinionated Daily Mail.

"The paper is a great thing to have, a great thing to give yourself, it's nice, it's very gratifying," the brochure continues. And, of course, this is especially true in the fuzzy, soft-focus world of media promotional material, where young couples in freshly laundered pyjamas read together in bed, suffused by the generous light of dawn's early glow.

Clearly, though, the NMA is not alone in making grand claims about the manner in which a medium can evoke powerful imaginative worlds, forge emotionally intimate relationships with its audience and generally enrich their lives. But you can see why the NMA has pulled out all the stops. If a medium is to be successful in selling itself to advertisers these days, it's essential that it manages to go beyond the quantitative aspects of audience measurement.

Or, as the NMA document puts it: "The newspaper bubble is a very desirable place for an advertiser to be; newspaper readers are in a mood to be involved, to be engaged, to have their emotions stirred. Advertising that looks to the newspaper editorial for guidance as to how newspapers are consumed; advertising that creates or triggers emotional responses works most powerfully."

1. The Radio Advertising Bureau is generally credited as the first generic marketing body to succeed in selling a medium's audience as a whole to advertisers. Since its launch in 1992, it has produced a steady stream of listener insight initiatives, brand-specific case studies and radio advertising effectiveness research.

Arguably, the RAB has been falling off the pace recently. Its research still tends to focus on effectiveness measures such as awareness. This is in contrast to the rival generic marketing bodies who seem more aware that planners these days are focused on the quality of the emotional connection a campaign can make with its audience.

2. In the consumer magazines medium, publishers have contributed to a de facto sell for decades by talking up the intimate relationship between magazines and their readers. In recent years, the Periodical Publishers Association has been more proactive, too. This week, for instance, is Magazine Week - a series of consumer-facing promotional events that the industry hopes will become an annual fixture. Last May, the PPA instigated a trade marketing push backing the document Passion and Power, which drew on research from a number of sources to argue that the magazine medium "is central to resolving many of the key marketing communications issues faced by marketers and agencies today".

3. Historically, the medium that has made the least effort to sell qualitative aspects of its audience is television. That began to change as the television-viewing audience began to fragment in the digital age, and the medium responded with the creation of its marketing body, Thinkbox, which came into being in February 2005.Its most important piece of research to date is the Engagement Study, which it began promoting at the Thinkbox Experience event at the Roundhouse in London back in February. Its centrepiece was a new piece of research undertaken by ACB, which installed video cameras in the sets of 22 households, capturing the response of 74 individuals to commercials over a four-week period. It argues that engagement - or the subconscious effect that ads can have on people - is more important than conscious, front-of-brain measures such as attention or recall.

4. The NMA's Emotional Connections draws on neuroscience and effectiveness tests, from Millward Brown for instance. As such, it is bound to resonate with agency planning departments, which use neuroscience techniques to flesh out brand-specific effectiveness case studies.

WHAT IT MEANS FOR ...

MEDIA OWNERS

- There's a generic "me too" aspect to some of these promotions, with many individual media owners clearly suspecting that this sort of exercise is a purely defensive measure.

- Few media owners can really believe there's a killer piece of qualitative audience research that will make a significant impact on their medium's ad revenue share.

AGENCIES

- It's possible to imagine media agencies being slightly cynical about a piece of audience research from a group of media owners. After all, it's likely to show that said group of media owners do an unrivalled job in delivering a premium advertising environment.

- Some of these initiatives, after all, are constructed from old pieces of research that are already in the public domain. But, actually, media agencies welcome initiatives such as Emotional Connections.

- They like it when media owners seem confident in marketing themselves and they say that, in restating their case, they help to freshen up dialogues on many levels - between the agency and its clients, internally within planning departments and between the agency and media owners.

- "In terms of the age of the people who do the day-to-day business on both the agency and client side, this is a very young industry," David Fletcher, the head of Medialab at Mediaedge:cia, says. "It's always worthwhile restating old truths."