FEATURE5 June 2017

A captive audience

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Techniques to measure audiences and advertising effectiveness are increasingly sophisticated, but the challenges of cross-platform viewing – and a lack of common standards – mean research is needed more than ever to get to the truth of what people think. By Tim Phillips

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In a 1982 study designed to show how advertising affects sales behaviour, research company Information Resources Inc (IRI) identified locations in the US with a single cable provider and a grocery store that accounted for 90% of all food purchases. It then performed an experiment in which TV advertising was manipulated so that half the families saw one set of ads, and the other half saw a completely different set. The 3, 000 households used ID cards to log their purchases. 

The result would not have been a surprise to John Wanamaker, who famously claimed that an unknown 50% of his advertising budget was wasted: “In 360 tests in which the only variable was advertising weight – the amount of television advertising to which consumers are exposed – increased advertising led to more sales only about half the time, ” concluded Magid Abraham, at that time president of IRI and, later, a founder of comScore, in the Harvard Business ...