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NEWS14 August 2009

Ban on client incentives raises fears over survey participation

Features UK

UK— Client and agency researchers have expressed concern over an incoming ban on the use of client goods or services as incentives following a revision to the Market Research Society code of conduct.

The ban takes effect from 1 December. Although newly codified, the MRS says it has been a regulation since January 2008 on the grounds that such incentives could be seen as “promoting the aims and ideals of the client”.

Certainly that is the view of the Information Commissioner’s Office, which told the MRS that it would regard the provision of client incentives “as a form of promotion, which would engage regulations that restrict direct marketing communications”.

However speaking to Research, Simpson Carpenter’s director of major studies Kevin Connolly said he hoped there was “room to push the ICO on this” as a blanket ban on the use of client incentives “is more severe than it needs to be”, particularly in the case of customer satisfaction surveys.

Connolly also believes the ban could have a knock-on effect on survey participation, making “an already difficult environment that much more difficult”.

Meanwhile, BSkyB’s marketing strategy director Danny Russell flagged the possibility that project costs might rise as a result of this more cost-effective means of incentivisation becoming unavailable.

The MRS said its standards board recognised “the usefulness of client incentives in encouraging participation” and noted that the proposal for the ban provoked “significant debate” during the consultation process. However in light of the ICO’s position, it said it decided to retain the rule as proposed. That is:

“Client goods or services, or vouchers to purchase client goods or services, must not be used as incentives.”

The full list of revisions to the code of conduct, plus a number of additional proposed changes, can be viewed online here.

@RESEARCH LIVE

5 Comments

10 years ago

I worry that this rule ignores the wishes of some respondents, falling back into the mindset that we (the researchers) make the rules, and respondents should do as they are told. As well as some customer satisfaction research I think this will drive more online research communities out of the Market Research domain. Some researchers have found that when people sign up to an ongoing branded community, for example drinkes of coffee brand X, what they expect as part of their compensation is brand related, such as visits to the factory, a chance to try new products, and yes product related incentives. A neutral incentive, such as cash or Amazon vouchers changes the mindset of the community members away from collaboration to being 'paid'.

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10 years ago

I completely agree with you, Ray. We often have studies where the participants can't understand why we're giving them cash when what they'd really like is a proper "thankyou" from the client. The question I can't see answered is why we there is a blanket ban on client incentives, when it's quite possible that the activity could be fully compliant with direct marketing regulations. Presumably in these instances anyone who's an MRS member would have to wash their hands of the research and leave it to amateurs for fear of a disciplinary?

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10 years ago

The issue here is a legal one that apples to everyone – MRS members and non-members alike. Direct marketing exercises will engage legislation that does not apply to research projects. Anyone conducting a direct marketing exercise is obliged to follow these additional requirements. The agreed position with the ICO is that customer satisfaction research exercises do not contain commercial messages nor do they promote the aims and ideals of clients, which are the key attributes of direct marketing. However, if client incentives are supplied as part of a research project clearly some commercial promotion becomes part of the exercise. It would therefore be unlawful to present such a project as solely for the purpose of research (a breach of the Data Protection Act 1998) and/or ignore any obligations to screen sample against the TPS or other applicable marketing preference lists (a breach of both the Data Protection Act 1998 and the Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations 2003). Client incentives can still be used to encourage respondent participation, although such exercises cannot be conducted under the research banner and must follow the MRS Regulations for Using Research Techniques for Non-Research Purposes.

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10 years ago

Geoff, thanks for the clarification, but it goes to the heart of the problem. Our non-MR competitors are not (in reputable cases) claiming to be solely for research, they operate without the MR exemption, in-line with DM regulations, and thereby, in some cases, offer a wider range of benefits. I also feel there is a lack of clarity in the current wording of the MRS Regulations for Using Research Techniques for Non-Research Purposes (what we used to call Cat 6), which say that unless there is an exception in the Non-Research guidelines, all other MRS Code of Conduct rules apply. Since the non-research guildelines do not mention incentives (I tthink), it implies that MRS members should be bound by the Code of Concduct rule about client incentives even when engaged in 'non-research' projects. I think it would be helpful for the advice to state clearly, as Geoff's message does here, that the incentive ruie does not apply when conducting 'non-research'.

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10 years ago

I also agree with Ray - I think at the heart of the problem is the lack of clear guidelines and distinctions between advocacy/word of mouth panels and advisory or research panels. We have seen strong growth in both but often vendors are not clear about the fact that one panel can't really be used for both purposes. Personally, I don't think this new rule will change this. It may even lead to brand communities opting to operate outside the MRS code altogether.

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