Archive for the ‘Effectiveness’ Category


October 16th, 2012

I was fortunate enough to attend Mediatel’s Media Playground last week and enjoyed the lively debates, especially around the new screen opportunities and the value of data. Unfortunately, I arrived late, and so the Screen panel session was already in full swing, and as the room was packed full of delegates, I had to sidle my way to one of the few vacant seats, right on the front row.

That wouldn’t have been too much of a problem except, not long after I sat down, the debate shifted to the perennial topic of why do we need BARB? Apparently, I sighed very audibly (thanks for pointing that out, Rhys!) which prompted a ripple of laughter.

As it happens, I was sighing because I’d just realised I’d left my mobile phone at home, but my opinions are apparently so well known that it was easily misconstrued: which is fair enough, because if I hadn’t been so pissed off about my iphone, I’m sure I would have sighed, if not wept tears of frustration. I’ve heard so much recently about BARB’s irrelevance to the digital media landscape of today that I feel I ought to add my voice to the case for its defence.

  1. BARB is an accepted currency. It is rare that we get the advertisers, agencies and media owners all in agreement, but the structure of BARB is such that they all have a stake in its development and implementation. A £3bn market needs a recognised currency, which is why the online industry is doing its best to replicate BARB via UKOM.


  1. BARB stands alone. One of the frustrations of online research and analytics is the plethora of data sources, meaning buyers and sellers can pick and mix the data that most suits them. It creates confusion, contention and conflict, rarely to the satisfaction of either party.


  1. BARB is constantly reviewed and quality controlled, so that the recruitment, measurement and analysis of the data is all conducted to the highest standards and the accuracy and consistency of the data is optimised. Having sat on more BARB committees and working parties than I care to remember (the Rim Weighting Working Party still gives me nightmares, twenty years on!) I can vouch for the huge amount of work that goes into ensuring the quality of the outputs.


  1. BARB is highly representative of the whole of the UK population, not just the online population – or worse, the tiny percentage of the population that decide to take part in online surveys.


  1. BARB measures people, not clicks. As such, it enables us to understand the profile of an audience, measure reach and frequency of campaigns and track individuals’ viewing over time; all hugely important for a display medium like television.


  1. BARB measures behaviour, not attitudes or estimates. The people meter methodology means respondents aren’t asked to recall their viewing or to record attitudes or perceptions; both of which are subject to inconsistencies and mistakes. It merely asks them to press a button whenever they enter or leave a room when the TV set is on (and BARB coincidental surveys indicate they do that accurately).


  1. BARB stands up to rigourous comparison with other respected data sources. For example, the IPA Touchpoints survey regularly shows a 99%+ correlation with the comparable BARB data, despite being measured via a different methodology.


  1. BARB is fit for purpose. Although it has been criticised for being slow to measure new forms of viewing, such as on demand, and cannot be deemed reliable in its measurement of individual programmes on the smallest channels, it measures the bulk of TV viewing accurately and reliably. It was interesting in the Screen debate that there was also a complaint from the on demand aggregators that BARB doesn’t measure their output yet (although plans are being developed), which kind of suggests even they see the point of BARB really.


The most common criticism of BARB from the online industry is that a sample size of 5,000 is almost archaic in the age of big data. Such complaints display ignorance in themselves; BARB’s sample size is over 12,000 people in more than 5,000 households. It is enough to provide an accurate and consistent measure of most TV viewing, certainly the viewing which attracts the vast bulk of TV revenues.

This is not to say that BARB shouldn’t evolve to match the changing demands of the digital media landscape, but so far it has managed pretty well. The main criticism is that it has been slow to measure on demand viewing via other screens, but this still accounts for less than 3% of total TV viewing, so it has not been a priority until now.  That said, BARB is already moving away from its core objective of ‘measurement of in-home viewing via the TV set’

I think, over the coming years, we can expect to see BARB measure more forms of TV viewing, wherever they occur. In order to keep up with the viewing shifts that are constantly evolving, we can also expect to see it fuse or merge with third party data – perhaps from server data or separate research studies – to provide a ‘Silver Standard’ service for the less mainstream forms of viewing.

What we won’t see in the foreseeable future is a rival service based on ‘big data’ and very different methodologies. There has been talk recently of social TV services such as zeebox providing alternative viewing measurement based on possibly hundreds of thousands of contributors. Good luck with that, I say, but until such a service can address the points I have raised in the case for BARB’s defence I think we can safely say that it will be around for quite some time to come.

Effectiveness Is In The Eye Of The Beholder

March 2nd, 2012

It’s only since I began regularly blogging on media matters that I have also started to ask odd questions whenever I’m confronted with a straightforward headline. I should have been satisfied with the report from the USA’s Association of National Advertisers (ANA), announcing research amongst major advertisers showing a renewed faith in television. To quote Bill Duggan of the ANA; “This survey confirms that the death of television has been greatly exaggerated. Our findings shine a spotlight on the bullish attitude that advertisers have towards the medium, including passion for new TV and video platforms.”
It confirms something I’ve always felt about USA media, ever since I went on a media ‘fact-finding’ trip to New York in 1989 and returned disappointed – in many ways, they have always been a year or so behind us. Such a headline from UK advertisers’ body ISBA would hardly raise a yawn these days, it has become so taken for granted.
But something in the article intrigued me. The report stated that, compared to 2010, the number of advertisers judging TV ads to be more effective tripled. That seems like a massive jump to me in such a short space of time and I double checked to make sure there hadn’t been some game-changing event that had taken place in the USA without my knowledge. Not really.
So, how to explain such a leap in confidence in a medium which has probably been battered and bruised even more in the States than it has here in Limey-land? I’ve come up with three possible answers;

1.   Television really IS getting more effective over there. There is a good case that it is, but the technologies that are cited by the ANA, such as new video platforms and addressable advertising, are nowhere near mainstream enough yet to have made a noticeable difference.


2.   American advertisers are finally getting the tools to measure and correctly attribute TV’s contribution to effectiveness. If true, this would persuade me to re-calculate our lead over the USA to two years or more. It’s often surprised me, though, how less well-established 360 degree effectiveness evaluation is Stateside.


3.   It’s more of an emotional thing – they just feel more confident about praising TV. I think we sometimes forget just how ingrained the ‘TV is dead’ narrative became following the emergence of Web 2.0 until just a couple of years ago. I believe the UK industry only really began to reject it as too simplistic around 2009, which would mean (if my time-lag theory is correct) the tables would begin to turn in the US in 2010 – the low base year from which TV’s perceived effectiveness has tripled.


Of course, as always, it is probably a combination of all three, but if I had to select one of those alternatives as my main influence, it would have to be third. On the one hand, so much of what we do is based on emotion and ‘herd’ behaviour, why not advertisers’ sense of excitement (or ennui) in TV’s place in the media landscape? But it must also be based on an increased understanding of how effectiveness works and how to attribute TV’s contribution, especially given the sterling work recently from the IPA, ARF, PWC, Deloittes and Thinkbox. So, maybe it is the second answer as well. That seems more like it – left brain and right brain working together.
Either way, come on USA – catch up! (And how often do we get to say that?)

Are we an art or a science?

February 2nd, 2012

I’ve been giving the subject of this week’s blog a lot of thought and, although it might sound like pretentious twaddle in places, I would really appreciate any comments if it strikes a chord, hits a nerve or presses your buttons. It is about the art and science of our jobs.

I initially went to University to study economics, but gave it up after less than three weeks, persuading them that I really should have been studying psychology instead.  Economics frightened me in the same way the Daleks had caused me to hide behind the sofa just a decade before; it portrayed a world of self-interest – cold, rational, analytical, predictable and improbably perfect.

Psychology should have been much more satisfying; it was about people and even in my teens I recognised that they were much warmer, messier, irrational, complex and unpredictable than economic theory. Unfortunately, like many psychology faculties at the time, the focus was on the scientific method and many of the theorists I was drawn to would often be dismissed as charlatans, because their theories could never be scientifically tested.  Psychology so wanted to be a science, even though it was designated a Bachelor of Arts degree.  If it couldn’t be measured, it couldn’t exist, said my tutors, and who was I to disagree?

This conflict between art and science has not always been so pronounced. During the Renaissance of the 14th – 17th centuries, both art and science flourished and polymaths such as Da Vinci were commonplace. However, the subsequent ‘Age of Enlightenment’, from the late 17th century, prized reason above everything and many of the rigourous principles underpinning science, mathematics and economics were laid down. They have ensured science has been valued over art ever since.

In our world of media and marketing, we have a much shorter timeframe to look at, but I think we have been through our renaissance and are now living through our age of enlightenment. Take advertising; the world of ‘Mad Men’ depicted one where art carried the torch. The creative was the focus, the science was more peripheral and ‘research’ was still finding its feet.

Since then, we’ve had our own Age of Enlightenment, although I’m not sure how enlightened it has made us.  A combination of ‘marketing science’ – where everything can be measured and evaluated – and digital technology – unleashing a torrent of analytics – has ensured there is more than a hint of Dalek in the cold, rational, analytical, predictable and perfectly-defined world we now inhabit.  This is the world of the pre-test, the marketing formula, real-time planning , media auditing and response optimisation. In its way, it is a beautiful place, a data junkie’s nirvana, but it has never felt like home!

There are signs that things are swaying back to a new Renaissance, though.  Two connected phenomena in particular, have helped to make life interesting again;

  1. 1.       The decline in the reputation of classical economics, and the increasing applicability of behavioural economics to marketing theory and practice.
  2. 2.       The increasing understanding that emotion is behind most decision-making and it can be best elicited through creativity.

I think both of the above have begun to transform marketing and advertising, the former in quite a micro way (re-framing the context, employing media touchpoints for specific behavioural goals) whilst the latter has been at a more macro level (releasing creativity, uniting media around big, brave ideas).

So here is my question. Is media – especially media research   - ahead of or behind the curve? Is it driven by art or science?

In order to answer that question, let me ask a follow-up. How much of our work directly affects the decisions that really move the goalposts? I don’t mean reinforcing decisions that have already been taken or fine-tuning the process. How often does the work we produce -  whether for media owners, agencies or advertisers –  have a real influence on the stuff that normal consumers would mention spontaneously if you were to stop them on the street or would animatedly  talk about amongst themselves in all of those face-to-face conversations we never hear? When they enthuse about animated meerkats, genre-busting TV shows, drumming gorillas, magazines aimed at lifestyles you didn’t know existed, posters that (literally) stop the traffic or social media experiences that last longer than a wet weekend, how often can research, or planning for that matter, puff out its chest and say “Without me that might never have happened”?

I don’t want to make this sound like an attack on research or planning. I have been fortunate enough to work for, with and against some of the most knowledgeable, talented and intellectually curious people I could ever wish to meet, but this issue has bugged me throughout my career.  We have developed the perfect tools to analyse, evaluate and measure, but how often do we use them to inspire, innovate or even challenge preconceptions? I can’t think of too many examples.

 If we want to be there when the big decisions are being made, we need to merge the science with the art, the insight with the analytics, and the creative with the prosaic.  It’s possible; the data’s available in abundance and the ‘renaissance’ skills within our industry even more so. Are we bringing them together enough to really make a difference? Do we need a renaissance or are we enlightened enough?

It’s a genuine question. If you have an answer, or even an insight to offer, email me at

Service? What Service?

August 23rd, 2011


One of the major challenges of setting up a new business is sorting out the technology. This is true whether you are a media consultant or opening up a builders’ merchants or hairdressing salon. The difference is, as a media executive with many years in the business, I thought I had a pretty good grasp of technology. I’ve been a regular user of the internet since it was originally deployed commercially and I have always felt I understood the ‘language’ of technology as well as the next person. How wrong I was!

The experience of setting up the hardware, software, website, communications and all of the convergence between them has been truly challenging, even for me. I have spent countless hours online talking to (or, more likely, instant messaging) numerous ‘helpdesks’, tried to make sense of installation manuals that appear to have no relevance to the world I live in and, in some cases, had to spend additional money just to have the luxury of the products I have purchased work as they should. There have been times when I wished for the comfort blanket of full-time employment just so I could call the IT department and leave it all in their capable hands.

If that has been my experience, what about all those start-up businesses where technology is not a familiar world; how much time and effort have they wasted just to get to the point where they can press the ‘on’ button and expect things to work?

This leads me on to two related subjects – customer service and wastage.

About ten years ago a significant shift occurred in marketing, when the power of customer relationship management (CRM) was touted as the way for companies to maximise profitability. The cost of new customer acquisition, it was argued, was much more expensive than that of maintaining the existing customer base, so why not concentrate on maximising returns and loyalty from those customers instead?

As Les Binet and Peter Field demonstrate in the groundbreaking ‘Marketing in the Era of Accountability’ that approach is flawed and does not generally lead to greater profitability, market share or sales return. Generally, campaigns that focus on increasing the customer base also generate more loyalty amongst existing customers than loyalty-driven campaigns manage to achieve. After my experiences over the last few weeks, I’d hazard a guess that the CRM approaches deployed (which have far more to do with ‘management’ than they do with ‘relationships’) are largely to blame!

CRM is all about efficiency, but unfortunately that is often at the customer’s expense. Very few companies (Sky is a rare exception) get it right. When they do, as in the case of Sky, both penetration and revenues per customer will rise. When they get it wrong, as most do, it is often a miracle they manage to retain the customer at all.

Which leads me on to wastage. One of the arguments often used about television is that it is ‘wasteful’, because in order to reach the ‘right’ consumers, the advertiser will also reach many of the ‘wrong’ people as well. Of course, what this fails to realise is that the amount paid is only based on the ‘right’ consumers anyway, so the ‘wrong ‘uns’ are effectively delivered free of charge. This is why many advertisers defend wastage both publicly and privately, and why addressability is not the game changer many experts think (an issue I’ll ‘address’ more fully in a future blog).

But I’d like to offer another perspective on wastage. Most consumers are worth something; for example, even poor people are important to luxury brands in the sense that if we didn’t all know whether a brand is luxury or not, we wouldn’t be impressed when the more affluent members of society flaunted them!

All brands, however, especially service brands, do reach a section of the population that could be considered wastage – the significant numbers who, following awful customer service experiences, would never dream of spending money with that brand ever again.

There are many of them. I commissioned a piece of research several years ago that suggested more than three quarters of the population can spontaneously name at least one brand that they would refuse to ever spend money with. In many cases, this was due to a poor customer service experience, and as CRM gets increasingly detached and algorithm-driven, my guess is that these numbers have since got much worse. But marketers in CRM-driven organisations are betting the bank on those customers instead of concentrating on replenishing them. Or, even better, providing a decent CRM experience in the first place!


The Power of Storytelling- The Invisible Influencer

August 10th, 2011

Researching an article I am writing for ADMAP, looking at why storytelling is such an important element of brand marketing, I was struck by the huge amount of research into storytelling’s ability to influence us, educate us, affect our behaviour and improve our memory and understanding. These are, of course, critical to advertising effectiveness and it is no surprise that those media that can create long-form narrative-led brand communications perform best in driving the bottom line.

There is an ancient Indian proverb that sums this up brilliantly;

“Tell me a fact, I may believe it. Tell me a truth, I may believe it. but if you tell me a story, it will live in my heart forever”

Those last two words – heart and forever – sum up the power of storytelling in that it affects our emotions and our long-term memory; and, of course, that is where brands live – in our emotions and in our memory!

There has been a surge of interest recently in the concept of ‘Transmedia Storytelling’ and many major multinationals now employ storytelling experts. The irony is that too much attention in the past few years has been on the ‘transmedia’ side of the equation and not nearly enough on the storytelling aspect.

Part of the reason for that is that marketing appears to have ignored the phenomenon in terms of trying to understand its importance. When I drowned myself in the available research on the power of storytelling, I was struck by the dearth of material that emanated from the marketing community. I had to look to the worlds of education, social anthropology, psychology, sociology, organisational theory and theology for the evidence; fortunately there was plenty of it around.

Storytelling has a proven and significant impact on engagement, emotion, communication, comprehension, critical thinking, language, social behaviour and memory. There is plenty of evidence to show that we are born with a narrative understanding of the world around us and that babies relate to narrative far better than any other form of communication. It is innate, fundamental and long lasting.

So, why doesn’t the marketing community take it more seriously? Is it because, culturally, stories are seen as frivolous, emotive and belonging purely to the world of fiction? Is it because we are still tied to the rational, mechanistic, fact-based view of ourselves even in the face of so much counter evidence?

Whatever the reason, if we are to truly understand and exploit the power of story to influence the consumer, we need to research it from a marketing context. Then we can all live happily ever after!