Who can best judge the eminence of an organ?

The mediaDNA consortium purports to exist in order to educate advertisers in the evaluation of media brands. Sean Brierley is amazed at the serendipity of it all

Aristotle believed that men with small penises were more fertile than their weightier rivals. The theory was based on the premise that the warmer the semen the more likely it was to fertilise an egg. It follows that the longer the lingam, the further the journey, and the more likely the homunculus was to cool down. He suggested that women who want a big family should aim small.

Cynics might suggest Aristotle had a vested interest in propagating the chilly willy theory. He might not have been at the front of the queue when God was handing out organs. However, even if Aristotle had an obvious vested interest, it could still have been a fortunate coincidence.

Last week, it was revealed that Ford chief operating officer Sir Nick Scheele ordered that all of Ford’s marketing business be directed to WPP. Coincidentally, it emerged that Scheele’s son works for a WPP agency in New York.

Over the years, a number of ad agencies have employed the sons, daughters and wives of their clients. The highest-profile coincidence was when Sainsbury’s and former Prudential chief executive Peter Davis’ son worked for both companies’ agency, Abbot Mead Vickers.BBDO.

These coincidences are not uncommon in the ad industry: last week a piece of research emerged which had a whole host of coincidences in it.

MediaDNA, a consortium including Zenith Optimedia and five benevolent media owners, commissioned research by Millward Brown into media brands, asking consumers to rate them in terms of certain attributes. The intention, according to Zenith Optimedia strategic resources director Frank Harrison, was to “enable advertisers who had traditionally based their decisions on ‘gut instinct’ to adopt a more scientific approach.”

It was a lucky coincidence that those media owners which paid for the research found their brands doing so well.

Rather than quote from mediaDNA’s press release, I will quote the Media Guardian website on the findings of this research. The website says the research found that: “The personality of the average internet brand is similar to that of the average national newspaper supplement – it is particularly extrovert, practical, stable and rational.” This was a fortunate finding for top Internet brand Yahoo!, a consortium member.

The website continues: “Radio is not just about trendiness and entertainment – individual radio brands such as 95.8 Capital FM score highly on attributes such as bold.” It is amazing that Capital FM managed to “score highly on attributes such as bold”, because Capital Radio is in the consortium.

And News International did terribly well. The Times was the most “stable” media brand and The Sun the most “British”.

More from Media Guardian: “Surprisingly, while the Financial Times and FT.com feature in the top ten most intellectual brands, they are beaten by TV series like The X-Files – with 83 per cent of viewers believing it is an intellectual media brand.” Yes, that is a surprise. It is also a spooky coincidence that the X-Files is shown on Sky. BSkyB is a consortium member.

But Sky doesn’t just get lucky once, it gets three more bites. To quote Media Guardian again: “The Financial Times has the strongest identity with consumers, with a very different media brand, in the shape of The Simpsons, in second place, ahead of brands including Coronation Street and the BBC.” What a coincidence. I wonder which broadcaster shows The Simpsons?

Got the message yet? “TV and sport brands are what consumers would be most lost without. Top of the list is The Sun TV magazine, followed by Sky Sports and What’s On TV.”

Or: “Unsurprisingly, Vogue is the most trend-setting media brand, with MTV third. But less predictably, consumers named… Soccer AM as second most trend-setting media brand.” Now, do you know which channel Soccer AM is on? Neither did I – like much of the male, football-supporting adult population of the UK, I am not a satellite subscriber. You might be surprised to hear that it is on Sky Sports. Amazing.

It all smacks of desperation. The fact that consortium members’ brands come top of a poll which includes such useless discriminators as “bold”, “strongest identity”, “British”, “intellectual”, “stable”, “trend-setting” and “extrovert” does them no favours. As with Aristotle’s theory, even if these assertions are true it is unlikely that the relevant brands have become more attractive to the intended recipients.

Such obvious bias undermines not just the credibility of the research, but that of the industry as a whole. On the one hand, we are asked to believe that media and advertising are professional, mature industries which command the public trust and are an investment for clients, not a cost. On the other hand, the ad agencies and media owners insult clients’ intelligence by such practices as deliberately over-estimating media billings, exaggerating client spend after an account win and supporting flawed research.

Over the years, the ad industry has been full of these low-level practices, from surcommission to overcharging for commercial production, and has lost credibility. The cumulative effect is that the industry finds it hard to be taken seriously when it demands to be treated with respect.

At a time when the ad industry is in freefall and budgets have been slashed, research like this does nothing to improve its image. On the contrary, it reinforces the belief among clients that above-the-line media are an expensive waste of money and should be avoided where possible.

Sean Brierley is a former deputy editor of Marketing Week and author of the Advertising Handbook

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