DNA experiment reveals media personality traits

MediaDNA has announced the results of one of the most ambitious pieces of consumer research undertaken in the UK. Torin Douglas considers its findings

It is not often that media research comes up with a genuine breakthrough, but the mediaDNA project seems to warrant the term – if only for bringing together six of the country’s biggest media companies to produce a genuinely media-neutral piece of consumer research.

BSkyB, Capital Radio, IPC Media, News International, Yahoo! and Zenith Optimedia are all members of the mediaDNA consortium, which has just produced a wealth of analysis on the brand image and personalities of no fewer than 176 of the UK’s best-known media brands. Not just every national newspaper and all terrestrial television channels, but 22 TV stations, 21 newspaper supplements, 38 magazines, 22 radio networks, 20 internet brands and 35 TV programmes.

Together these media brands account for more than 80 per cent of UK advertising expenditure in TV, radio, national press and the internet. And it is now possible for media planners to match the consumer positioning, personality and image of any one of them with those of advertisers’ own brands, instead of relying on traditional demographic data and gut feeling.

Which are the most intellectual media brands, in the view of more than 11,000 UK adults quizzed by Millward Brown? Which are the sexiest, the most innovative, the most informative and the most influential?

We could all come up with lists of our own. The value of mediaDNA is that it imposes a structure on our instinctive value judgements, and creates a software tool that can be interrogated to show which media brands are likely to be most appropriate for certain campaigns. Frank Harrison, strategic resources director of Zenith Optimedia, the consortium chairman, says: “MediaDNA allows us to tune into the mindset of consumers, by aligning advertised brands with media image and personality profiles to increase advertising effectiveness.”

One section covers the relationship users have with their media brands. For instance, when asked which medium “cares about its users” the top five were Radio 2, Take a Break, Woman, Woman’s Own and Chat. The combination of statements helps advertisers discriminate between otherwise similar programmes, such as Friends (you lose yourself in it, it appeals to men and women) and Sex and the City (trend-setting, time well spent, influences opinion). Under “image”, the five most glamorous media brands are all magazines: Vogue, Elle, Hello!, OK! and Cosmopolitan. But the components also differentiate between genres, separating men’s magazines (extrovert, sexy) from TV listings titles (British, informative). The most conscientious brands are all broadsheet newspapers, including the Financial Times, The Times, the Sunday Times, The Guardian and the Daily Telegraph.

Some of the judgements are less expected. The five most intellectual media brands – at least as far as their own consumers are concerned – are: The X Files (83 per cent of its viewers say it is intellectual), followed by The West Wing, CSI, Stargate SG1 and Star Trek.

MediaDNA was launched just over a year ago and at that stage it wasn’t clear whether it would produce something of real value, or fall by the wayside like dozens of other intriguing research concepts. At that stage it included no magazine company. Nor did it include the fastest-developing medium, the internet.

Now those gaps have been filled, by IPC and Yahoo!, and the project looks more rounded. And the second wave of research has doubled the number of media brands in the database, making it more broadly based and robust.

I must declare an interest here. I introduced last week’s industry presentation of the findings to an audience of agency planners and buyers. But I should also point out that, since its launch, mediaDNA has been awarded a seal of approval by the Institute of Practitioners in Advertising and been named Agency Research Project of the Year at the Media Week Awards.

It is also becoming clearer how the findings can be used, both by agencies – to plan campaigns – and by media owners, in positioning their publications and programmes. “It can pin down the relationship between a newspaper and its supplement,” said Ian Clark, director of advertising at News Group Newspapers. “Does the supplement offer something different from the main paper, or just more of the same?”

He said the Sunday Times’ Style magazine had a very different personality from the Sunday Times itself: similarly “intellectual” but much more “extrovert”. By contrast, he said, the Daily Telegraph and its Saturday magazine offered little of difference from each other.

It won’t have escaped your notice that the Sunday Times, like Clark, comes from News International, and therein lies a drawback. MediaDNA is the property of its consortium members. Its five media owners will use it to highlight their own strengths and Zenith Optimedia to give its clients a planning advantage.

Other media owners have already b

een asking whether it might be turned into an industry-wide research project, available to all – like BARB and the National Readership Survey. The answer, I gather, is “no chance”, for the moment at least. The consortium members – who have invested &£300,000 in it so far – are finding it too valuable.

Torin Douglas is media correspondent for BBC News

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