OPINION: The argument for a radical new approach to research

Media research is a vital part of the process of modernising the industry, which must face up to a world increasingly marked by rapid change.

Media research is a vital part of the process of modernising the

industry, which must face up to a world increasingly marked by rapid


Arguably, ‘media’ in the ad business was born as a fully-fledged concept

with ITV’s first transmission in September 1955. ITV’s arrival not only

meant the start of real comparisons between different media and the

emergence of a new type of buyer and seller, it also heralded a new type

of media research.

Yet 40 years on, the research tools and skills have remained essentially

the same, despite the exponential growth in the media and the burgeoning

need to prove advertising media effectiveness.

In the 80s, the media revolution was still a ‘mass’ concern with

launches such as the Mail on Sunday, Channel 4 and the Independent. This

meant we could ignore the fact that media research could only tell us

the likelihood of our ad being seen rather than give us a breakdown of

how many people saw it and whether they acted on it.

But the rise of targeted or segmented media such as satellite TV or

newspaper sections means that this is no longer acceptable.

Consequently, we see the need not only for reform of industry media

research - research that is focused on media’s efficiency - but also the

need for more effectiveness research.

Response advertising is one measure of effectiveness research that will

almost certainly become a pervasive feature of future media evaluation.

The telecom and digital communications revolutions will turn the simple

concept of ‘response’ on its head when detailed consumer data can be

collected both easily and cheaply. For a growing proportion of

advertisers no longer will it be ‘the medium is the message’ but ‘the

dialogue is the medium’.

However, with the so-called ‘media revolution’ in full swing, there is a

dawning realisation among media owners and agencies that the media

industry is increasingly characterised by rapid change.

Perhaps media research is being set up for something it can never

deliver. Almost all media decisions are intended for some future event

or situation. So we can never be sure how good they will be.

No matter how scientific media research becomes, uncertainty and risk

will not disappear from decisions about the future. Research can’t

predict the sharp bends ahead. The result is that joint industry

research may lurch from crisis to crisis.

Rather than eternally rewrite the industry research specifications, we

should accept constant change as a feature of the media world. A new

order should be established in which:

1. Industry media research becomes streamlined, with ‘catch-all’

measurements of all key media. (For example, Barb saves money by

reducing the number of reported audiences.)

2. The industry instigates ad hoc surveys for growing critical issues,

new media etc. (For example, the National Readership Survey looks at

reviews versus supplements.)

3. Media owners and agencies form strategic alliances ahead of these

developments to resolve issues more swiftly. Current examples include

the Channel 4/CIA Medianetwork’s direct response study.

4. Effectiveness research, including response, is increasingly used as a

trading currency.

Fundamentally, the issue facing media research and the industry it

serves is that of managing change. Measuring media is not now impossible

but our understanding of what constitutes effectiveness and media

exposure needs to change.

Otherwise it may become reactive, knee-jerk research. If we don’t re-

invent industry research we may end up hearing ourselves saying, ‘Don’t

worry, things will soon settle down to a steady panic.’

Graeme Hutton is European development director of CIA Medianetwork