Media: Spotlight On: ITV Research - Is ITV’s tvSPAN the Holy Grail adland has been waiting for?/ITV’s benchmark research data has been souped up. Alasdair Reid investigates

With the emergence of any new bit of research linking media consumption to purchasing patterns, someone, somewhere will start talking about the Holy Grail. They either mean that King Arthur is alive and well and now wields a market researcher’s clipboard, or, alternatively, they believe that behavioural research is a good thing indeed. If you can build a watertight model of cause and effect - a predictable purchase response to the stimulus of advertising - you can begin to map your marketing future with some certainty, thereby saving yourself bucketloads of money. And that’s obviously worth searching for.

With the emergence of any new bit of research linking media

consumption to purchasing patterns, someone, somewhere will start

talking about the Holy Grail. They either mean that King Arthur is alive

and well and now wields a market researcher’s clipboard, or,

alternatively, they believe that behavioural research is a good thing

indeed. If you can build a watertight model of cause and effect - a

predictable purchase response to the stimulus of advertising - you can

begin to map your marketing future with some certainty, thereby saving

yourself bucketloads of money. And that’s obviously worth searching

for.



But there’s another thing about the Holy Grail. It’s apparently so

dazzling that it may cause temporary blindness and black spots. Which is

why, some say, ITV attempted to evoke the Grail last week. This was a

classic diversionary tactic designed to distract attention from its

announcement that audience targets are to be downgraded.



Did it work? After all, this particular Grail looked suspiciously like

an old gravy boat - the big deal is that tvSPAN, ITV’s single source

purchasing and data source, is to be upgraded from its existing 750

homes in the Meridian region to 3,000 homes nationwide. This new

national sample will, as before, be funded by ITV and conducted by TN

Sofres.



So, did the old Holy Grail wheeze work? Jim McDonald, managing partner

of The Allmond Partnership, says: ’The only thing that strikes me as

slightly ironic is the fact that senior ITV sales figures in recent

months have been making a lot of noise about the fact that ITV’s revenue

base will continue to move away from fmcg. The tv-SPAN research is fmcg

research - it links television viewing directly with sales. Other

advertisers have other issues, like brand awareness. But that aside, I

think it does demonstrate the power of television, particularly ITV

peaktime - which has got to be good news.’



Jerry Hill, the chief executive of TSMS, perhaps unsurprisingly,

describes tvSPAN’s roll out as a landmark initiative: ’How much more is

peak worth? What are the relative values of different channels? Is burst

better than drip? Does higher attention to programming mean greater

attention to advertising? These are questions that tvSPAN answers. This

step-change in understanding can make a dramatic difference to the

effectiveness of the adspend.’



But what about the implication that ITV is no longer all that interested

in attracting fmcg advertisers? A seminar organised last week by the

Billett Consultancy highlighted television’s decline as an effective

medium for food advertisers - between 1995 and 1999, their share of UK

television advertising fell from 27 per cent to 21 per cent. They are

being squeezed off the medium by high-tech companies willing and able to

pay premium prices for airtime.



The seminar’s conclusion was that fmcg companies should look to develop

more effective solutions across a wide range of media. But is research

like tvSPAN going to help combat their disillusionment? Jerry Hill

doesn’t see why not. He adds: ’This is a substantial contribution to the

commercial success of our largest customer group - a group whose

businesses have been subject to severe stresses from retail price

competition and ever more powerful retailers. I think it’s great news,

not just for clients but for ITV and the television industry too.’



Is it? Possibly, Greg Turzynski, managing partner of Optimedia,

says.



’ITV is taking a gamble. Its assumption is that the results from a

larger sample size can still be interpreted in its favour. For grocery

products - and especially if restricted to the viewing of housewives -

it may well pay off. The bolder application would be to use tvSPAN to

compare TV’s efficiency with that of other media.



Apparently, it is now possible to use the system to do this. If ITV were

to take this approach, it would certainly be a brave move from the

market leader.’



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