Ask the man on the street what he thinks about Honda and his view is likely to have been formed out of 100 different impressions - what he has read, experienced, heard from friends, seen on TV. Most media planners have an intuitive understanding of how different media work together, but until now, proving it has been surprisingly difficult to do.
Touchpoints - the IPA's long-awaited cross-media research project that launched last week - claims to be the first standard tool that allows planners to track the media people consume as part of their day-to-day lives and understand how they fit together.
- How does it differ from current research tools?
"The results allow us to dig into complex usage scenarios across all media," Nigel Foote, a managing partner at Starcom, one of the founding partners of Touchpoints, says. "That means analysis of things such as shared consumption, or how people look at media together. It's about planning but, ultimately, it will also have an impact on how we trade."
In compiling the research, more than 5,000 respondents were given a handheld PDA and asked to complete a series of questions every half-an-hour over a week-long period - including how they communicate, the media they consume and how they feel while they are doing it. The same group were also given a paper-based questionnaire covering their individual media choices and general likes and dislikes.
The results form a "hub" database that the IPA will plug into established research tools, including Barb, the National Readership Survey and Postar.
This will form an integrated planning system, due to be released in May.
Beyond its obvious relevance to media agencies, creative agencies will be hoping the IPA delivers on its aim of making the research an annual or bi-annual event. Over time, Touchpoints could supply a picture of cultural trends and how new technology is changing people's lives.
Bartle Bogle Hegarty is one of the creative agencies to have expressed an interest in subscribing to the research. Guy Murphy, BBH's deputy chairman, explains: "Increasingly, we need to understand the context in which our communications appear, not just the content. We also see brands competing for consumers' attention with everything in their lives, not just with their competitor brands and this research gives us an insight into that."
Touchpoints also gives media owners the opportunity to assess how they fit into people's changing lifestyles and how their individual medium is consumed in the context of the overall media environment.
The survey asked respondents to record their main media activity in every half-hour period, and their secondary media activity. The results reveal consumers are cramming about 32 hours of activity into every 24-hour period and show how different media tend to be consumed in tandem.
"If you look at the detail, you can see that 50 per cent of TV viewing is secondary activity and that the attention span for traditional media is coming under pressure," Dave McEvoy, the marketing director at JCDecaux, says.
"On the other hand, it gives us new information that can be very useful. We've found, for example, that the bulk of internet activity comes after exposure to outdoor - when you get into work, or just after you get home.
We've always assumed that people listen to their car radios while looking at posters but the link to the internet is a whole new area for us."
- The time dimension
The context in which media is consumed is the first and most obvious benefit that Touchpoints has over other research. Because respondents had to fill in their media activities periodically throughout the day, the results show when people are exposed to different media as well as how long they spend with each. It can let you know their mood throughout the day, something that could help target groups when they are at their most receptive. It can even tell you when a defined group is most likely to go shopping, who they go shopping with and what media they use just before they go out.
This time dimension also allows planners to find out whether people are alone or in a group at any point during an average day. For a brand wanting to reach teenagers with a sensitive healthcare message, for example, this means the ability to reach them when they are most likely to be consuming media on their own. A search of the database reveals that teenagers are 22 per cent more likely to listen to the radio alone between 10.00pm and 12.00am than they are at any other time of the day.
Targeting people at times when they are giving one particular medium their undivided attention is another possibility. Surprisingly, the research shows that people are less likely to be doing other things while watching TV before work than you might expect - in fact, they are more likely to be multi-tasking while watching commercial television in the evening than they are between 7.00am and 9.30am.
Young people are also especially prone to consuming more than one type of media at once - 17 per cent of 15- to 24-year-olds are likely to be looking at or listening to more than one type of media at any given time, compared with 11 per cent of all adults. But that doesn't mean you can't catch their undivided attention. On Friday nights, for example, only 6 per cent of them are multi-tasking.
- Reaching the DM unreachables
The scope of the research allows deeper analysis of individual consumer groups than has been possible before - those who opt out of receiving direct mail, for example. According to Touchpoints, that's 57 per cent of the population. Until now, those people remained an unidentifiable mass: no-one really knew which alternative media could be used to target them.
Thanks to the database, it's now possible to find out. On average, DM non-adopters spend four hours a day watching TV (just slightly less than the national average), tend to listen to more radio (especially Radio 2) and particularly enjoy TV comedies, but aren't that keen on soaps.
"Now we can target by media action, so we can see which groups are most likely to respond to DM," Foote says. "We can also look at how to reach people who opt out by using alternative media. That's great for direct targeting, which is an increasingly important part of any media plan."
- Do Daily Mail readers conform to stereotype?
Whichever consumer group forms your target market, Touchpoints allows planners to segment audiences more creatively than has been possible in the past.
As a result, challenging the stereotypes becomes a real possibility.
Do Daily Mail readers, for example, have the straight-laced media and lifestyle tastes that you might expect? According to the research, they are avid readers of Tesco Magazine, Saga, Good Housekeeping, Reader's Digest and BBC Gardener's World. More surprisingly, they are also fans of FHM and Loaded, although women's monthlies are less popular with the group.
Analysis can even be done of individuals' tastes. We all know that he's a keen user of his BlackBerry, but how else does Sir Martin Sorrell communicate and what media does he consume? Run his profile (age, job and so on) through the database and you discover that he watches a lot less tele-vision than the national average, but looks at more websites and is more likely to read a daily newspaper. Dig a little deeper into the system and you can pinpoint which newspapers he is likely to read or what he's using the internet for.
- A new way to communicate
It might make depressing reading for the publishers of the national dailies, but the research confirms what they already know - teenagers and 15- to 24-year-olds spend an average of just six minutes per day reading a daily newspaper, far below the national average. They also consume less TV and radio, but spend a lot more time travelling and using the internet.
As you might expect, broadband internet use is most prevalent among this age group, but its popularity extends far beyond that market, with take-up remaining high right into the 45- to 54-year-old age group.
Perhaps the biggest change in lifestyles concerns the way people communicate.
Fifteen- to 24-year-olds spend almost as much time speaking face-to-face as the national average, but much more than average (4.6 per cent of the total) talking on their mobiles and 3.3 per cent talking in chatrooms or instant messaging.
The popularity of texting has also had a huge impact. Young people text far more than they speak on their mobile phones - 63.2 per cent of their overall mobile phone use is by SMS, compared with the national average of 45.1 per cent.
Written communication has also seen a seismic shift. E-mail now makes up 48.4 per cent of all written communications, SMS follows with 29 per cent and letter writing comes a poor third, with 12.9 per cent. For 15- to 24-year-olds, the story changes: 47.5 per cent of written communications made by that age group are by text message,with 27.9 per cent on e-mail.
- What people really think about advertising
All the recent talk of engagement begs the question: do people actually like the ads they see and hear? According to Touchpoints, 19 per cent of the population find advertising intrusive, while 15 per cent do not.
Although nearly 47.1 per cent admit to changing TV channels when the ads come on, the Government will be happy to hear that nearly two-thirds (62.9 per cent) of respondents would be happy to see ads on the BBC if it meant the abolition of the licence fee.
Almost half (49.5 per cent) say they usually like TV advertising, though the number who claim to like ads varies significantly by media - just 10.9 per cent say they generally like the advertising in newspapers and only 36.1 per cent usually find radio advertising informative.
Notably, this is one section of the survey in which the internet fares worse than its old-media peers. More than two-thirds of respondents (68 per cent) agreed with the statement "I find advertising on the internet very irritating", and only 8 per cent disagreed. It may be the fastest-growing medium both in terms of usage and adspend, but it seems agencies have yet to work out how to target people online without simultaneously alienating them.