Media: Double Standards - Identifying exactly what makes consumers tick

Viacom's Agostino Di Falco and MPG's Denise Turner discuss research into how and why consumers use new media and the way it will shape business.

AGOSTINO DI FALCO - director of insight and research, Viacom Brand Solutions

- What's the point behind your research project?

Viacom Brand Solutions' latest project is called Digital Drive and, together with our partners at Decipher, it has involved upgrading 15 homes up and down the UK with the latest technological devices. For six months, participants have been getting to know the Windows Media Center PCs, the latest PVRs, Xbox extenders and a mobile media device called the Zune. Essentially, each home has been networked, allowing content to pass easily between devices. The point of it all is to monitor behaviour over time in this fluid environment and understand what impact this has on advertising, programming and channels.

- What have you learned so far?

We've found that the participants have a great thirst for viewing content in different places in and out of the home. So far, we've recorded viewing through the Zune in the bath, the car, at work, the gym and on a plane, as well as the more regular locations such as the lounge, kitchen and PC. New technology seems to have given a new lease of life to audio-visual content, and from an advertising perspective, it potentially offers new ways to engage consumers.

- Are agency and media owner motives different when commissioning this type of study?

Actually, I think agencies and media owners are increasingly aligned these days. We're both looking to gain an edge by uncovering new insight that can shape the way we do business.

- What has most surprised you about the feedback so far?

The speed with which people have adapted to and adopted the equipment. We may have a problem taking the kit away ...

- How willing are people to be monitored in their home and is there a line you have to be wary of crossing?

We let them do the talking. People are really passionate about TV/in-home entertainment and, as such, are more than happy to be given the opportunity to share their views. So, to be honest, there's no line to cross.

- How do you use the results in work for your clients?

We've been very transparent. Anyone can go to the website www.digitaldrive.tv to check out what the families are saying, and we also invited clients to participate in the study directly - and ten of them did. We'll be sharing results with the broader advertising community in due course, to help clients shape strategies on our MTV, Nickelodeon and Paramount channels in this new space.

- Does this sort of initiative make old-style quantitative research less relevant?

Not really. I see them as complementary. There will always be a need for robust quant-style research to tell us what people do. But I think studies such as ours can also tell us why they do what they do.

- What would a webcam in your home reveal?

It would reveal that the PC is constantly in use, but is strangely never the centre of attention. That pleasure is still reserved for the big screen in the corner of the lounge, around which everyone still congregates.

DENISE TURNER - head of insight and effectiveness, Media Planning Group

- What's the point behind your research project?

One of the requirements from researchers today - especially in media agencies - is to understand consumer behaviour and motivations in ever greater detail. We are increasingly being tasked with uncovering why people do what they do. And all of this on an ongoing basis, covering a host of different topics. Our Fabric research programme is brilliant in that it gives us access to a group of consumers that we can talk to on a regular basis about issues and questions that come up for both current and potential clients. This has proved to be a much better approach for us than big one-off projects that have a limited shelf life.

- What have you learned so far?

That people are often swayed by seemingly small things when making big decisions about brands and companies. That today's families are absolutely at the forefront of using digital media in some ways and yet resolutely traditional in others. That people are very predictable in some ways and completely unpredictable in others - which means we need this sort of research more than ever so as not to make assumptions.

- Are agency and media owner motives different when commissioning this type of study?

Agencies want - and need - to understand consumers in their entirety, where media fits in and the "why" behind the "what" of media consumption. So we tend to look at the bigger picture all the time. Media owners have a responsibility to sell their own medium - which means some of them focus much too narrowly. However, the good ones use this type of research in the same way as agencies, so they can work out how their medium fits in.

- What has most surprised you about the feedback so far?

That people on our panel really love being asked for their views and opinions, and that, with a bit of thought, you can really engage consumers in the research process.

- How willing are people to be monitored in their home and is there a line you have to be wary of crossing?

In these days of concerns about data protection, people are reluctant to give much away about themselves. And, as a result, people are more sceptical of research. We have taken that into account in the design and running of the Fabric panel, engaging panellists in an ongoing two-way dialogue, building trust over time. Part of the way we do that is by making participation interesting and fun, using different methodologies to interact with the panel.

- How do you use the results in work for your clients?

Fabric has proved an invaluable source of insights, giving us new and different angles on our clients' issues. We use it to determine and define media strategy and implementation. And, above all, to remind ourselves and our clients that we should not base everything on our own consumer experience, but that we need to listen to and take note of consumers and what they think.

- Does this sort of initiative make old-style quantitative research less relevant?

No, you need both - they play different roles in the process. Fabric helps us dig deeper and explore hypotheses and gives us insights. We would then use "old-style" research to explore further and quantify.

- What would a webcam in your home reveal?

Two small children running around causing chaos and a wonderful husband who has given up work to look after them. A four-year-old son who has grown up with Sky+ and thinks it is completely normal to pause television (particularly useful for toilet training times, I must say!).