This week’s Media Research Group conference in Barcelona will debate the
fundamental question of just how much weight should be borne by industry
standard research? Alasdair Reid asks should it stick to providing the
figures that comprise the basic trading currencies or should it attempt
to do all the clever stuff too?
Whenever the issue of media research comes up these days, it is taken
for granted that the ‘industry standard’ providers could be doing more.
The assumption is that no-one in advertising should rest until
everything anyone ever wanted to know about media is quantified and
generally available on disk.
But has the time come to start questioning the real role of industry
media research? The Media Research Group has devoted a special debating
session at this week’s MRG conference in Barcelona to the issue. The
motion will be: ‘This house believes that the industry should provide no
more research than allows the seller to sell and the buyer to buy.’
Proposing the motion will be Mark Cranmer, the managing director of
Motive; opposing it will be Phil Georgiadis, the chief executive of
Mark Cranmer says he will be urging the industry to be more realistic
about what it can achieve. ‘As media consumption fragments and the
patterns become more complex, the role of industry research should be to
establish a base-line currency recording exposure to various media,’ he
insists. ‘It must provide a credible, reliable and robust measure of
exchange in the market.
‘But I believe that we shouldn’t expect industry research to ask too
many questions about consumer behaviour. To increase our understanding
in that area, we should be spending more money discretely on a project-
by-project basis - we can then use that insight to apply our judgment to
the base currency and ask questions about value.
‘What this means, of course, is that we should be spending less at an
industry level on the hard currencies of research while, on an
individual basis, spending more to understand the behaviour of the
consumers of the individual brands that we work on.’
Cranmer is anxious, though, that his views aren’t misconstrued as an
attack on the research industry. ‘I see it as a liberation - at the
moment there is too much resource going into research that doesn’t make
a big difference on individual brands and doesn’t allow us to
differentiate ourselves as media practitioners. That, I believe, should
be the role of media research in the future,’ he says.
The stance that Phil Georgiadis will be taking in the debate is that,
without the current levels of research, the industry as a whole would
find it difficult to function. ‘I will argue that what we do with
qualitative research is effectively a separate issue,’ he states. ‘I
will suggest that even if we could cut the quantitative budget and use
that money to fund qualitative research, it would be a mistake.
Negotiations would become more, not less chaotic.’
Georgiadis concedes that there may be times when a spotlight needs to be
turned on a particular area - perhaps of interest to everyone or maybe
relevant to a particular product market. ‘However, I will argue that the
choice of where the spotlight shines is made by intuition,’ he adds.
‘And one of the most dangerous aspects of little pockets of agency-
driven media research is a tendency to over-react without taking into
account the broader picture. The line I will take is that pockets of
qualitative research in the past have frequently turned out to be
irrelevant or unworkable.
‘This is not because qualitative research is worthless but that it is
wrongly directed. I will make a case for sophisticated quantitative data
that will show everything and will be available for everyone. The
expansion of industry research - and the way we use it to diagnose our
problems - is the only method of forcing the business to acknowledge
that the media buying and selling system should be changed more
radically than we currently realise.’
Georgiadis stresses he is playing devil’s advocate at the session. This
doesn’t necessarily represent his heartfelt opinion. But does he reflect
the views of any in the business?
Brigitte Saxer, the advertisement marketing manager of the Independent
and the Independent on Sunday, concedes that if industry research gives
no more than bare essentials, buyers and sellers will be forced to look
elsewhere for an edge in negotiations - but she’s not entirely happy
‘People who conduct their own research are quite rightly free to publish
whatever extracts they choose and this leads to an increasing number of
negotiations where one side has more information than the other,’ she
‘Good research is expensive and by sharing the cost and the information
among us, we get excellent value as well as a highly regarded and
accepted currency. Individually conducted pieces of research may lead
the way or force people to take quicker action on certain issues. But
the industry has a responsibility for maintaining the high standards and
fair play that currently exist in media research.’
Phil Gullen, the managing director of Carat Research, says that the
fragmentation of media and the increasing use of non-traditional
communication vehicles in any campaign makes industry research less and
‘That’s increasingly the case as we approach the 21st century,’ he
maintains. ‘Barb cannot report on cable channels, Rajar no longer has
room to pre-print a full list of available stations and the NRS covers
less than a tenth of consumer magazines available on the newsstands.
Decisions on sponsorship, database marketing and promotional activity
are made without any industry research to use as a crutch.’
Gullen argues that the future lies in bespoke research that will allow
individual advertisers to assess the value of all of the elements that
make up their communications mix. ‘This will involve getting into the
minds of the relevant consumers and understanding the relationship that
they have with the available media. But it still has to focus on the
fundamental questions - the ‘What did we achieve?’ and ‘What did we
sell?’ questions,’ he maintains.
‘As for industry research - it needs to concentrate on providing the
most relevant and comprehensive currency for buyers and sellers. This is
a difficult enough task in itself without expecting it to do more.’