FEATURE1 February 2002

Media watch: What the media are saying about market research

Compiled by Yvette Mackenzie

BARBed comments
The great BARB saga has been hogging headlines recently with Janet Goldsmith and Andrew Heaney reporting in the FT ( 08/01/2002 ) that, “The introduction of the new TV ratings system by the Broadcasters» Audience Research Board (BARB) has proved as smooth as Shackleton’s attempt to cross Antarctica.”

According to the BBC ( 04/01/2002 ), most concern at the delay is likely to be felt at Channel 4, which is interested to know who watched the most expensive drama in the channel’s history, «Shackleton». But according to The Guardian’s Jason Deans ( 04/01/2002 ), the BBC was also left in the dark over the climax to a wife-beating storyline in «Eastenders» that ended on New Year’s day when Little Mo hit Trevor with an iron.

Emily Bell from The Guardian ( 14/01/2002 ) berated the system, calling it “ham-fisted” and claiming it’s akin to “electronic tea-leaf reading”. “The great farce of the small screen is entering its third week. In an age when we can grow a human ear on the back of a mouse, get missiles to turn left at the traffic lights and pick up dust from Mars, we still can’t count how many people watch TV on any given evening.

“BARB, the authoritative source of all television audience data, was supposed to have spent the last three months of 2001 fine-tuning a brand new ratings panel. Come the breathy anticipation of 2002 and, instead of an avalanche of data, there was an eerie silence. Ahem, said BARB, just a few «teething troubles». Normal service will be resumed tomorrow, leaving a two-week period of ratings-free TV,” Bell fumed.

Steven Boggan of The Independent ( 15/01/2002 ) argues that whilst the resumption of the service has brought a measure of relief, there are still some areas where it falls short. Media buyers claim the BARB figures are invaluable; programme-makers believe the system is “far too dependent on numbers they regard as inherently flawed”.

Boggan’s article, published the day after the release of the first set of data, quotes Jeff Eales, chair of the BARB Data User’s Group. “It’s too early to tell yet – there’s a lot of number crunching to be done, but we could be witnessing the calm before the storm. Problems could come when advertisers find that the audience they thought they had bought was not actually delivered. If that happens, the broadcasters will have to make that audience up to them. That’s going to cost money,” said Eales.

Absolutely crackers
It wouldn’t be Christmas without crackers, writes Pamela Townsend in The Evening Standard, ( 11/12/2001 ). The British pull a staggering 100 million Christmas crackers each festive season, though their manufacture is a year-round affair. And we bet you never expected market research to be at the heart of this frivolity, but those silly paper hats and little plastic spiders have a lot of creativity and thought behind them.

Debbie Cass, a graphic designer who comes up with novel cracker designs, table torpedoes and party poppers, says, “I start by putting together a series of concepts, shapes, colours and sizes. I’m given a brief based on market research, so I have a good idea what the customer wants in terms of fashion and what retailers need in terms of how things will be displayed in the stores. My skill is solving marketing problems in a creative way.”

Gaining cool points
Ipsos UK came in as the 70th coolest company in the UK, according to a piece by Nick Pandya in The Guardian ( 05/01/2002 ). The article is positively gushy about the benefits of MR: “Market research can be a cost-effective way of finding out what people believe, think, want, need or do – information that cannot usually be obtained from any other source. Industry, commerce and governments use the research to help them produce goods services and policies that match public demand.”

Pandya says Ipsos’s cool status is confirmed by its philosophy: global brand marketing is a reality and MR needs to provide comparable data across national boundaries. Ipsos was commended for its role in many large-scale official surveys, including the National Readership Survey for newspapers and magazines; RAJAR, which tracks radio audiences; and EBRS and BBS, which survey business leaders in Europe and the UK.

11 September still felt
Jonathan Loades-Carter reported in the FT ( 14/01/2002 ) that, “Media sector fallout from the terrorist attacks on the US continued… as Taylor Nelson Sofres, the world’s fourth biggest market research group, said the September 11 had impacted on it’s target for margin growth in 2001”.

TNS said in the aftermath of the September 11 attacks there was a reduced demand in its press and broadcast monitoring activities, omnibus and focus group services. This has hindered efforts to improve margins by 0.5%.

However, Mike Kirkham, chief executive of TNS, explained that market research was less affected than the rest of the media sector because “companies still need to know what’s going on in their markets”.

Prosumer piffle
Niku Banaie argues in the FT Creative Business supplement ( 15/01/2002 ) that we no longer simply live in the consumer age but rather the «prosumer» age as consumers who act as brand advocates or even co-producers are on the increase. He continues, saying that brand owners need to have a two-way relationship with prosumers because they are an active brand community.

To deliver this, he says, prosumers can no longer be “duped into a false relationship”. Apparently, if the balance is right, brand owners will be able to “rekindle brand loyalty and provide a competitive point of difference”.

February | 2002