NEWS24 December 2008

News Review of the Year: Part One

It was a year of shake-ups, shake downs, bust-ups, bruisings, slap-ups and slapped wrists. Brian Tarran remembers it well


Hard times

Here at Research, we don’t go in much for sensationalism. So when our January editorial warned that the global economy was heading for “a tight squeeze”, what we really meant was “full-scale financial meltdown… or as near as damn it”. Certainly the mood of the industry was bleak right from the outset of the year – marketing services group Creston put acquisitions on the back burner and IMS Health said it would axe as many as 760 jobs to deal with a slowdown in pharma company spending. At such an early stage, though, there was still hope that an upturn would come towards the second half of the year. But it never did, and now commentators are saying that we’re still to see the worst of this downturn. So with that, welcome to Research Magazine’s review of 2008 – as it stands, it was a better year than the one to come.

Story of the Month:

US research council CMOR asks Ford Motor Company to be more sensitive in how it portrays research after setting up a fake MR agency for its ‘Swap Your Ride’ ad campaign

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Poll no!

Pollsters were always going to find themselves in the spotlight this year given the US presidential election in November, but the full glare of the media turned on them in February when their research pointed to a win for Illinois senator Barack Obama in the New Hampshire Democratic primary vote, only for him to be beaten by Hillary Clinton. ‘What went wrong?’ cried editorialists, angry that they been ‘duped’ by the polls into declaring an Obama victory ahead of the actual ballot. While it’s tempting to think ‘More fool them’, the pollsters set about finding an answer. Did race play a factor? Was it a late surge in female support or a lack of cell phones in the sample? The debate continues, but the media doesn’t care anymore. Obama is now President-elect – just as the polls said he would be.

Story of the Month:

The Broadcasters’ Audience Research Board switches its TV ratings contract back to TNS, ending its eight-year relationship with AGB Nielsen Media Research

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The right stuff?

“Project Apollo offers the potential for a breakthrough in consumer understanding about how and when consumers are most receptive to brand information.” So said Greg Ross, Procter & Gamble’s director of media and marketing, way back in September 2004 when Nielsen and Arbitron first announced plans for a new service that would track the media exposure and purchase behaviour of a single panel of US households. But all breakthroughs come at a price, and for potential clients of the Apollo service that price was too high. After more than three years development, the project was axed on cost grounds. So is the dream of single source too expensive ever to be realised? Attendees at an Advertising Research Foundation conference in June expressed hope that in the future a more economically advantageous solution could be devised. But one company claims to have already done so. TRA has developed a system to match loyalty card data to TV viewing behaviour in the same homes, and has already won backing from Discovery Communications, CBS and media agency MediaVest.

Story of the Month:

Canada’s Market Research and Intelligence Association criticised the government after ministers said they would cut public opinion research spend by one-third – or C$10m a year.

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Death of the survey

Planners and researchers have an uneasy relationship – with the former usually called on to stick the boot in to the latter by research conference organisers looking for an ‘edgy’ and ‘challenging’ session. So, fresh from filling that role at the Canadian industry’s annual gathering, Research asked Juniper Park’s Jason Oke to explore why he feels research is struggling to lead businesses towards a brighter future. Among his criticisms was that research had failed to adapt to the feedback culture so prevalent now, with review sites, corporate blogs and social network profiles – all of which makes plain-Jane survey questionnaires seem old hat. Little surprise, then, when later in the year US trade publication AdAge ran with the headline ‘The End of Consumer Surveys? quoting Procter & Gamble’s Kim Dedeker as saying: “Without transforming our capabilities into approaches that are more in touch with the lifestyles of the consumers we seek to understand, the consumer research industry as we know it today will be on life support by 2012.” That’s if the recession doesn’t finish us all off first.

Story of the Month:

AOL stumped up $850m to buy social networking site Bebo. “This positions us to offer advertisers greater reach and marketers significant insights into the needs

of consumers,” said AOL chief Randy Falco.

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Author: Brian Tarran