THE IVORY-BILLED NIT PICKER
Better Sight a Media Researcher
I am an agency media researcher by training which today seems akin to being an endangered species without government protection.
It’s no news that many of our best and brightest have left the trade or switched allegiance to suppliers or to the sell side. Beth Uyenco, David Marans, Tony Jarvis, Jon Swallen, Ira Sussman, Barbara Zack, Joanne Burke. The troubling question is “why?”
Perhaps because there is no monument on Madison Avenue to media research. Perhaps it’s because we forget so quickly.
The Brain Behind Planning
In 1960’s through the 1990’s media research was the brain behind media planning and buying. It sparked fundamental ideas like audience, cumes, data integration, demographics, frequency distribution, media-mix, optimization, ratings, reach/frequency, readership, recency, product usage, test markets – and I haven’t even tried hard to remember.
Are there no new problems to solve? Are no new media concepts needed? Is everything rushing towards fragmentation, chaos and spin?
A current example. DTC drugs have extraordinary geographic purchase patterns. These are determined by the geography of ailments, the distribution of doctors and the formulary policies of leading insurers. As a result a third of the country can account for 50% of all prescriptions filled for a brand. Yet most DTC advertisers spend their money on national TV, not spot. Why aren’t agencies following the money? That’s not the way it used to be.
Forgive my theatrics, but there is a change in the media research function and perhaps the best way to explain the change is with a parallel story.
ARF and the Consultants
In 2001, the Advertising Research Foundation, concerned by the lessening influence of marketing research at major advertisers, commissioned a study of the problem.
It confirmed their fears. Key research intelligence functions were being usurped by consulting companies, who not only did the research, but also but also championed a course of action. Something objective researchers, trained to report the facts, were not prepared to do.
The ARF report created a firestorm. Most researchers
challenged the conclusions until a keen-eyed observer asked who had the ARF
hired to do the study. The
answer was The Cambridge (consulting) Group. Thud.
Can We Use It to Sell?
I think we have a similar situation in Media. Media research’s real contribution to the agency has been stolen by strategic planning. It too is willing to go beyond the typical media research questions, “What is it?” and “Is it any good”, to the real value question, “How can we use it to sell?” (An intentionally ambiguous word.)
But in this world of no free lunch, every solution contains its own hair ball. Strategic planners often do not have the discipline of media researchers. They tend to be big-picture, articulate, fluffy-word people, not nanotechnologists. They talk in terms like “touch-points,” “receptivity,” “365 degrees,” “24/7”, “a day in the life of...” And at this confusing time they sometimes help to celebrate confusion.
Stalking, Not Planning
For example the popular strategy seems to be to see in how many different ways we can think of reaching the consumer. But because we can reach consumers at different times and in many different ways, doesn’t mean we should try.
That’s stalking, not planning.
The key to ad receptivity is relevance. It a function of media, message, targeting and situation. Any miscue can destroy relevance and with it the ability of a message to influence consumer behavior. So we may able to reach people playing video games or at the gas station, or on their cell phones, or in the elevator, or at the movies, or in the john, but is this necessarily a good idea?
Fragmentation and greater media choice haven’t changed the rules. The key to integrated media planning is still selectivity and synergy. Selecting those options that together produce the greatest total response for the budget, not a contest to see who can use them all.
The goal is response. That is the measure of media effect and we have ways to measure it. Words like “engagement,” “involvement” or “receptivity” describing consumer states which we think might affect response are, in themselves, not enough.
Lord Kelvin Nailed It
Lord Kelvin, the temperature guy nailed it when he said. "If you can measure a thing then you know something of it." Co-incidentally, Art Nielsen had those words embossed on the cover of his early reports.
Physicists like Kelvin ran into the word problem more than a century ago and came to the necessary conclusion that something that cannot be seen, heard, touched or smelled, even though we have a name for it, does not exist, except by how we know it’s there — that is, by how we observe its presence by measuring its effect. The thing is the measurement. The measurement is the thing.
And that is why we should fear the passing of media researchers. They may be weak on fluffy words, but they know counting counts.
- August 1, 2005 -