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Wednesday, 22 October 2014

SAMRA CEO's mission to reclaim 'research'

Four years ago the market research industry in South Africa had a problem. Direct marketers selling under the guise of research (sugging) were so common that consumers were hesitant to take part in legitimate studies in case someone tried to sell them something.

Research spoke to a frustrated Leonie Vorster back in 2008 at the height of the country’s sugging crisis, when she, as chairman of the South African Marketing Research Association (SAMRA), bemoaned the lack of action from the country’s Direct Marketing Association.

“We are getting about three calls a week complaining about sugging,” she said at the time. “We are also finding that the public does not want to participate in research because they are expecting to be sold something. It is a grave concern for us.”

Research was ultimately aided in its “battle” against the suggers when the new Consumer Protection Act was passed, making sugging illegal. Most of the public are “very aware” of this legislation and the protection it affords them, said Vorster, in a recent interview. However she expressed concern that the industry is still suffering from the damage done to its own image by rogue marketers.

“For members of the public,” she says, “there’s no clear distinction between research and direct marketing, and that’s what we need to address.”

Fixing the industry’s image problem is one of Vorster’s top priorities since becoming CEO of SAMRA in May.

Her plan of action includes educating the public about the benefits of real research, embarking on a PR campaign for the industry and building stronger relationships with the media. A core part of this is making sure the research industry does more to prove to respondents that they are not being set up for a big sell at the end of interview.

“We can’t shirk the responsibility of creating that distinction [between research and marketing] ourselves,” she says.

Vorster stresses that the blurring of lines between research and marketing is a global problem – and a mounting one. She warns: “In the social media space it’s becoming harder to tell them apart. It’s certainly a challenge but I don’t think we’ve given it enough attention.”

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