Media: Spotlight - Can the IPA win support for cross-media research?

The new research will need to gain approval with media owners, Jeremy Lee reports.

The methodology used for planning ad campaigns comes from a distant era, based as it is on silo measurements of audiences that cannot be integrated.

This approach is arguably looking dated as, over the past decade, both the media market and people's media consumption have changed beyond all recognition.

And, although some agencies have developed formulae to assist them in the process, any attempts to plan or calculate the efficacy of multimedia campaigns are, as any planner will tell you, based largely on intuitive guesswork.

So when the IPA announced last November that it was commissioning a research initiative that would act as a hub for single media-based industry surveys giving users a multimedia perspective, there was understandable rejoicing.

Since then, the IPA's research director, Lynne Robinson, has been busy working with a committee of agency personnel, led by the PHD managing director, Morag Blazey, on hammering out precise details of what the research will entail.

It is still in its early stages but last week the IPA created a shortlist of five research companies to pitch for running the project. By next summer, it is possible planners will finally have an additional research tool to enable them to plan and measure cross-media campaigns.

While details are still scarce, Robinson confirms the methodology has been agreed upon (but she won't reveal if it will be electronic or diary based) and that the sample panel will be several thousand strong. Some say that it is likely to be based on the BBC's daily life survey for which users fill in an electronic diary.

The research, while not intending to supplant TGI data, will be based on demographics, life stage and attitudinal behaviour and the IPA is confident that it will be successfully fused to the existing Barb, National Readership Survey, Postar and Rajar audience measurement systems to provide planners with a greater depth of information.

Once developed, the software and the research data will be available to media owners as well as agencies and Robinson confirms the project will be an on-going process rather than just a one-off piece of research.

However, as the project progresses, there are already some signs of concern.

After all, agencies already shell out considerable sums of money buying in research and will be faced with purchasing another expensive layer to go with the existing measurement tools.

Sue Unerman, the director of strategic solutions at MediaCom, is one of the many frustrated with the current situation. She is worried, however, that the IPA's research may not go far enough and that its ambition, however honourable, may already be thwarted by sticking with the measurement systems currently in use.

"My campaign is that if you are designing any cross-media research system, you wouldn't start from where we are now," she says.

Unerman proposes a more dramatic solution than one that complements existing research. She wants the IPA to rip up the existing systems in place of a system where radio, magazines, posters and TV consumption can be electronically tagged using Radio Frequency Identification Data.

RFID is a system that the supermarkets are introducing to monitor consumer purchases. It sends a signal when the consumer leaves a shop, revealing what they have purchased. This will enable the supermarket to reduce shoplifting as well as to monitor people's buying habits and keep a record of stocks.

By 2007, Wal-Mart wants its top 100 suppliers to have tags on their products and Tesco is also thought to be looking at the project. Unerman thinks that the IPA and ISBA should join forces with the media owners in introducing something that could fuse cross-media consumption with actual buying habits.

"I think we should start again. The technology already exists and it would be to everybody's benefit, but it is not in everyone's interest," she says.

While scrapping the existing measurement systems might be too radical for some and given that the IPA's proposal falls well short of this, most agencies are in favour of any system that introduces greater clarity.

However, the issues are different when it comes to the media owners, who have their reservations about any new measurement of their audiences.

This is understandable given the variations in audience figures revealed after the TV companies attempted to introduce a new Barb panel in 2002.

Media owners are reluctant at this stage to go on the record but there is, Unerman points out, an inherent suspicion of anything that could act detrimentally to a media owner's revenue base. In short, there is a problem that vested interest will resist any changes.

However, Robinson is trying to make all the right noises. "We're looking to media owners to support the research and we're hoping that it will add strength to the existing trading currencies," she says.

She adds that the project is not intended to measure the efficacy of each medium in isolation or introduce a new trading currency but this does little to reassure them. The IPA hopes the research will be funded in part by media owners paying to use it.

It seems inevitable that once the information on audience media experience is received, this will lead to a shift in the allocation of media budgets.

Alison Wright, the managing director of Manning Gottlieb OMD, thinks that media owners will have to accept the data if all agencies use it: "From a media owner point of view, I don't see how anyone could resist it on rational grounds."

However, some fear that media owners will disown the research and refuse to recognise its legitimacy. There is, therefore, the potential for an almighty scrap when the system becomes operational next year.


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