DIRECT: Will a two-year lifestyle study woo advertisers?

ICD is ready to tap into the nation’s shopping psyche. Robert Dwek looks at how the industry will respond.

ICD is ready to tap into the nation’s shopping psyche. Robert Dwek

looks at how the industry will respond.

ICD, the lifestyle database company, has embarked on a two-year

investigation into the nation’s shopping habits. Launched this month and

backed by a pounds 21 million spend, the ambitious project will entail

three separate questionnaires mailed out to the UK’s 24 million


Using a 1996 survey as its guide, ICD estimates it will have a high

response level (about 10 million households) and expects to be

processing returned questionnaires at the rate of 24,000 a day over the

next two years.

All of which sounds very impressive and ICD, perhaps indulging in a

little launch hype, claims the exercise could have a dramatic affect on

marketing by creating ’a new advertising medium’.

According to Martin Kiersnowski, the managing director of ICD’s surveys

division, this project will provide advertisers with a critical mass of

information about niche areas of consumer behaviour.

’It’s the 80:20 rule,’ he explains. ’Eighty per cent of sales are

usually generated by 20 per cent of your customers. But how do you

advertise to these people, persuade them to stay loyal or, if they use a

competitor’s product, to switch to yours? TV and press are not accurate

enough to pinpoint these consumers. But until now, nobody has been able

to generate sufficient volumes from a lifestyle survey to have an impact

on national market shares.

We expect to change that.’

The 150 questions in the first survey are sponsored by a variety of

companies who can ask what they want, albeit with ’editorial guidance’

The survey covers several categories, including holidays and travel,

motoring, health, money and investments, mail order and charitable

concerns. The incentive to complete the questionnaire is the chance to

win free entry into the National Lottery for a year, or a camcorder or

mini hi-fi system.

ICD’s competitors are, not surprisingly, reluctant to see this latest

series of surveys in quite the same glowing light as their creator.

Jason Barrott, deputy managing director of Consumer Surveys, a

subsidiary of the list broker, Dudley Jenkins, sees it as a big vote of

confidence in the lifestyle data market, but certainly doesn’t see these

surveys leading to a dramatic move from above to below-the-line. ’We do

see more companies looking at database marketing, but as part of a total

communications service,’ Barrott says.

Others are not convinced that ICD’s data, heavily reliant on such

questionnaires, is sufficient on its own to convince advertisers to

change their ways.

’We wouldn’t recommend a mailing to a client based on just one


We’d want to use lifestyle data gathered in different ways, from

companies such as NDL, CMT and Consumer Surveys,’ says Chris Love, data

targeting manager of the direct marketing agency, Brann.

Claire Harding, head of list broking at HLB, a subsidiary of the direct

marketing agency, WWAV Rapp Collins and the largest list broker in the

UK, agrees on this point: ’There’s definitely room for more data, but

you need a mix of different lifestyle companies. But it’ll be

interesting to see if ICD can get the volumes it’s predicting, because

it’s not a foregone conclusion.’

Nevertheless, Love admits to using ICD quite extensively and says

lifestyle information now forms the bulk of bought-in data. He likes the

way companies can sponsor questions on such surveys, and finds them

particularly effective in determining consumers’ intention to purchase

or donate. ’Lifestyle data has proved very successful for several of our

clients, especially in the charity sector where you can find out which

charities people are predisposed to,’ Love says.

Another through-the-line agency, Maher Bird Associates, likes the sound

of ICD’s surveys but questions whether their findings will automatically

lead to a shift below-the-line. Stephen Maher, Maher Bird’s managing

director, is wary. He says: ’It might show that a 24-year-old C2 man in

Doncaster is attitudinally linked to a 33-year-old A1 woman in Notting

Hill. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that you will want to start

direct mailing them. It may be that certain broadcast methods are more

appropriate, particularly if what were considered very diverse groups

emerge as clusters.’

Brian Sassoon, board planner at Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO, also has mixed

feelings about the standalone value of the ICD data. ’This sort of

survey is quite useful to ad agencies for research purposes. If you’ve

got a small group of people who are difficult to get hold of then this

kind of data can be a very cheap way of getting some top-line

information about their demographics and psychographics. But whether it

will switch advertisers from above-the-line to below-the-line is another


Sassoon believes there will always be a role for advertising, no matter

how impressive the detail that comes out of these kind of surveys. ’Look

at TV, even if it isn’t the most cost-effective way of reaching your

audience, just by appearing on it gives a brand stature and credibility

that it wouldn’t acquire through direct mail.’

This doesn’t sound too promising, but the Luddites may be overtaken by

their clients, who seem increasingly knowledgeable about lifestyle data

and increasingly amenable to its application.

One such client is the recently formed credit card firm, RBS Advanta, a

joint venture between the Royal Bank of Scotland and the US-based

Advanta corporation. Tim Lewis, RBS Advanta’s marketing director, has

been a client of ICD since 1988. He is a champion of lifestyle surveys,

and used such information while working for American Express, First

Direct and Chase Manhattan bank.

His current employer is a 100 per cent below-the-line marketer. ’We

believe lifestyle surveys are a thoroughly good thing,’ Lewis declares.

’We are major users of the data that comes from most of these surveys.’

He admits to being a bit sceptical about whether the latest ICD

initiative heralds a sea-change in marketing, but is convinced that

there is a gradual long-term move below-the-line. Although RBS Advanta

is still deciding whether to sponsor one of the ICD surveys, Lewis

thinks it likely that he will be using the information that comes out of


This is, of course, heartening news for Kiersnowski, who believes his

surveys will hold a particular interest for ’traditional’ direct

marketers, such as charities, insurers, financial services, car

manufacturers and retailers. But, he promises: ’This information will be

valuable to any competitive sector, to companies who need very recent

data on their rivals.’

So, sea-change or hot air? All should become clear two years down the

line, by which time we will be well into a new government. Kiersnowski

claims that an ICD survey sent out before the last general election, the

one that left market researchers with egg all over their faces, came

within 1 per cent of the actual result. As the popular TV programme

might say, strange ... but true?

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