Media: Double Standards - Are media-consumption studies too biased?

Thinkbox's David Brennan and the IAB's Tim Elkington say studies into media consumption are truly revelatory and play a vital role when carried out correctly.

DAVID BRENNAN - RESEARCH AND STRATEGY DIRECTOR, THINKBOX

- How valid is research specific to one medium in this age of multimedia consumption?

Integrated research is vital, and there's plenty of it. IPA Touchpoints, agencies with proprietary cross-media exposure and engagement studies, and collaboration between trade bodies, including the Thinkbox/Internet Advertising Bureau study on TV and online. But single-medium research has an important role in understanding new developments or highlighting misunderstood qualities of a medium. Our customers expect us to shed light on TV, to help them make a case for it and use it better.

- To what extent does your research show a complementary fit between TV and internet use?

You only need to glance at the Google metrics showing huge spikes in search around TV ads to see how well TV and online work together, and much of our research has underlined how TV and online media are complementary. They are a dream team. Our study with the IAB revealed, among many things, the different roles TV and online play in the consumer journey; how TV tends to kick-start the journey, with online playing an increasing role as the consumer nears purchase or transaction.

- Why does trade marketing research always tell a positive story for the medium that has paid for it?

The acid test for all our research is that it offers genuine insight to help advertisers use TV better. We understand the "they would say that, wouldn't they?" reaction, but, with this in mind, Thinkbox only produces research that is high quality, credible and from unimpeachable sources. We applaud and expect informed scepticism; but when it wanders into self-interested cynicism, we have been known to get quite stroppy. Even if results were negative, we would be transparent about it because we trail our research in advance. There have been a few occasions when I might have wanted a different outcome - memorably when a viewer hated an ad so much he said he'd never use that brand again - but, fortunately, I've rarely faced that issue because TV works.

- Has research from a rival organisation ever really annoyed you and, if so, what was it?

Here's a quick guide to spotting dodgy media research: "payback" studies analysing a small group of brand campaigns across a few weeks in just one consumer market to "reveal" that medium A is more effective than medium B (our evaluation studies are based on hundreds of brands studied across years); and "data" from online panels that says "all" consumers feel or behave in a certain way (online panels are skewed and self-selecting).

- What is the most exciting piece of research you've commissioned?

We are just getting the first results from a neuroscience study we've commissioned, and for many reasons I am incredibly excited about this one. I can't give much away now, but the initial data looks both consistent and valid - thank God - and it is genuinely telling us things we never could have previously known.

- And is there a best way of bringing this research alive in a presentation?

I'm a great believer in using TV to sell TV, and so we spend a lot of time filming and editing our own research projects and using the audio-visual element of our presentations to tell the story, backed up by solid numbers.

Storytelling is the fundamental way humans learn. There is an old saying: "Tell me a fact and I may remember it. Tell me a truth and I may believe it. Tell me a story and it will live in my heart forever."

TIM ELKINGTON - HEAD OF RESEARCH, INTERNET ADVERTISING BUREAU

- How valid is research specific to one medium in this age of multimedia consumption?

It depends which kind of research you're after, but basically you have to do both. First, show how a medium works within the overall landscape and, second, identify its unique strengths to encourage a deeper understanding. It's true that the end-user differentiates less between channels and cares more about the content regardless of the mode of delivery.

However, online is unlike any other channel - and it hasn't been around for decades. There are disciplines - mobile, for example - that some marketers are still trying to get their heads around simply because they're still emerging.

- To what extent does your research show a complementary fit between TV and internet use?

We already knew that TV and online were highly complementary media, but the research we conducted with Thinkbox in 2008 confirmed these assumptions and illustrated the positive effects of using the two in tandem. Our study with the Radio Advertising Bureau a few years ago also proved that different media can play to each other's strengths and provide an even better return on investment.

- Why does trade marketing research always tell a positive story for the medium that has paid for it?

All trade bodies have a duty to their members - and advertisers - to conduct research that highlights the strength of any particular medium. However, I'm a firm believer that we should present both sides of the coin.

Our brand engagement studies, for example, examined the role of each medium (press, online, TV, radio etc) in engaging consumers for a variety of sectors including automotive and retail. In some of the studies, online was found to drive a high level of consumer engagement, but for one study - in the haircare market - we were careful to explain that in terms of the creative, TV and print were far better at drawing consumers in, while online was an effective "follow-up" medium.

- Has research from a rival organisation ever really annoyed you and, if so, what was it?

We're in quite a unique position in that we don't see ourselves as having any immediate rivals. No other organisation does exactly the same job for our members. Any research, from any source, that helps us better understand the market can only be a good thing.

- What is the most exciting piece of research you've commissioned?

Last year, we commissioned the IAB's Customer Conversion Journey research to analyse the user journeys taken by the online customers of three travel brands - British Airways, Virgin Atlantic and bmi - and work out which marketing messages internet users are exposed to and which best drive online purchases. This is something that the industry has been crying out for.

- And is there a best way of bringing this research alive in a presentation?

For years, we've been bogged down with presenting reams of numbers, complicated graphs and intricate charts that illustrate research results in an incredible amount of detail.

For us, with any project it's about the three main things that brands or agencies should take away with them and how they can put the theory into practice. Oh, and quirky YouTube videos work a charm.

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