Closer look shows media research is ‘rubbish’

The media sector invests about 16m per year on standard industry research, an amount seriously questioned by many of those who foot the bill. On balance, I believe it is not so unreasonable a figure considering it provides a trading currency for 8.2bn of ad expenditure.

The problem is the data is abused. It is excessively manipulated and rehashed through bespoke “black box” computer techniques – all professing to deliver the ultimate “magic” media solution.

Much of this effort, while giving the illusion of responsible analysis, is complete nonsense. Many of the techniques used are flawed as they fail to consider the quality of the original data which can only be as good as the definitions ascribed to the media consumer being measured. These are:

TV viewer -“present in the room with the TV on”

Radio listener – “listened for five minutes within a quarter hour”

Poster viewer – “the passage past a poster subject to visibility”

Newspaper reader -“look at said paper for at least two minutes within a publication period”

Clearly none of these “opportunities to see” provide a guaranteed “opportunity to be remembered”, a situation that worsens every day as the poor consumer is bombarded by more and more advertising messages.

Last Wednesday, I counted my own technical media exposures then attempted to remember the ads I had seen. Here is my “exposure” log:

From 6.50am to 7.25am I watched GMTV, during which time I was exposed to two breaks, 11 commercials and two sponsorship credits – a total of 13 ads.

On my way to work, I saw the following outdoor ads: one 96-sheet, nine 48-sheet, 49 six-sheet, six tube cards, 28 escalator panels, 27 flyposters and two bus sides – 120.

During the journey I read the Independent newspaper and saw: two full-page ads in the main sections, one page in the Eye section and 45 smaller ads – a total of 48.

Between 10am and 10.15am I browsed through Marketing Week, and was “exposed” to two DPS ads, 16 full pages and 15 others – 33.

Between 1pm and 2.15pm, I went out for lunch and saw 16 flyposters and two six-sheets – 18.

Between 6.30pm and 7.30pm I travelled home and was technically exposed to the same 120 outdoor ads as on my journey to work.

I read the Evening Standard newspaper and saw three full pages and 42 others – a total of 45.

I watched TV between 7.52pm and 11.15pm, during which time I was “exposed” to six breaks, 42 spots and four sponsorship credits – 46 ads.

A staggering 443 “exposures” and I have ignored classified, inserts and the direct mail sitting in a pile by the front door.

So what did I remember? Not a lot, which is either a testimony to my failing brain cells or a clear demonstration of the inadequacy of the standard industry research exposure definitions.

As media practitioners we must urge the relevant bodies to improve standard research. However, we should also recognise that any head-counting technique is going to be flawed.

By recognising these flaws we can develop our own insights into consumers’ media behaviour. Surely real insight, rather than regurgitation of loosely relevant numbers, will provide media’s most valuable contribution to the communication process in the future.

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