Archive for the ‘Online Research’ Category

THE RELEVANCE OF CHANNEL BRANDS

October 16th, 2012

I have just returned from the IBC Conference, otherwise described as the Planet Klingon – by its own delegates! –  in Amsterdam. It is my third visit in just over a decade, and although on the surface much remains the same (dress codes, conference topics, and several people vaguely resembling Comic Book Guy from The Simpsons!) some things do change below the surface. One such thing is the realisation that TV is not only not going to go away, but that it is integral to the success of many of the products and services on display.

My role at IBC this year was to argue against the proposition that “connected TV will render traditional TV channels irrelevant”.  Part of me was surprised this was still up for debate, but then I remembered the setting. There was a robust debate from John Honeycutt of Discovery, Nigel Walley, Anthony Rose, Saul Berman et al resulting in a strong majority of the audience voting against the motion – i.e. there is a place for ‘traditional’ (I do hate that word – it assumes a rejection of change) channel brands in the future connected world of television.

Mind you, as almost exactly the same proportion had voted the same way in the pre-debate benchmark vote, it means the two teams technically tied. It does, though, demonstrate the seismic change in attitudes to TV’s future role amongst the tech community, totally different to even 3-4 years ago, and that is worth thinking about. Even if we hadn’t managed to shift the balance during the debate in the slightest!

As far as my own personal contribution went, my preparation for the debate gave me a renewed sense of the continuing importance of channel brands in a connected TV world. Branding becomes increasingly important whenever choice and functionality is improved, and the TV viewing environment is no different. But, I can hear you ask, why shouldn’t those brands be Google or Apple or even zeebox?

I attempted to answer that in four parts.

First of all, brands have to stand for something relevant to the choice process and channel brands have proven to be a very defined and relevant short-cut to programme choice for decades. Viewers understand the difference between an E4 late night drama and an ITV Sunday evening one, a Discovery documentary and a Nat Geo competitor. People use channel brands all the time, as several on demand aggregators have found to their cost.

Secondly, channel brands offer a guarantee of quality (after all, the essence of what a brand should stand for); for most viewers,  it is important that a programme has had a peak-time, ‘proper’ channel transmission; a bit like theatrical release is important to the DVD market (and ‘straight to DVD’ tells you all you need to know).

Thirdly, we should never underestimate the importance of now! What is on the telly now is significantly more important than what’s on my planner or on demand, which is why the latter are often used a safety net and the schedules remain first port of call. Social media and channel programming strategies are making now more important all the time, and while the schedules take precedence, the channels that create that content will always thrive.

Finally, I talked about the context of viewing; most of which is still shared with other people. This is always missed out by those advocating an individualised, targeted, solitary viewing future, and it means that the aggregators’ main USP – personalisation  – will only benefit those living alone or preferring to watch alone (most don’t). Shared viewing is more about compromise than the personalised, something the channel brands are uniquely able to provide with their much-derided ‘general entertainment’ tag.

I also looked to a future where channel brands can increase their revenue base through opportunities such as merchandising, live events, PPV, micro-payments, data value and a whole bunch more. They can be much more than just a navigational aid in TV’s connected future.

They will need to adapt in order to thrive, but when even the IBC Crowd are pronouncing their faith in the ‘traditional’ TV channels, it is time to reaffirm their relevance, past present and future.

 

HAS US PRIME TIME LOST ITS SHINE?

October 16th, 2012

According to a recent academic paper by a professor at the University of Pennsylvania, there has been an increasing collective interest in death and dying within American society, and it has been growing consistently for several decades. It certainly seems to have permeated the US media industry, and particularly its industry press, which has been chirruping recently about the dramatic falls in viewing the US networks have been experiencing in the last month or so, and the signal it sends that Americans are (finally!) drifting away from their television sets for good.

The New York Times reported under the headline ‘Prime-time Ratings Bring Speculation of a Shift in Viewing Habits’ that the combined network audiences were down by double digit levels year on year, with the comment “I think we are at a tipping point in how people are going to watch shows”. The LA Times breathlessly reported that “the prime-time television ratings drop took centrer stage at the Digital Content NewFront presentations in New York, with former ABC Entertainment Chairman Lloyd Braun seizing on the numbers as an opportunity to talk about changing viewing habits — and the rise of digital media”. Well, he would, wouldn’t he?

A single month of poor figures and the prophets of doom and gloom immediately assemble to pick over network television’s carcass. Except, there is no body to scavenge and the numbers being touted suffer from some basic misinterpretations!

Thanks to my good friend, Dr. Horst Stipp of the Advertising Research Foundation, I have managed to get hold of some Nielsen figures, which put a different light on the numbers.

The first thing to note is that the numbers relate to the 4 week period ending 12th April. Now, first of all, a four week period is hardly enough time to suggest the death of the dominant digital media channel, but sadly that is the short-termist nature of the world we live in. However, it wasn’t just any 4 week period; it was a period which contained both the Easter and spring breaks this year, but not in 2011. TV viewing suffers during those two periods, as anybody who has tried to get out of a major US city during Easter weekend will tell you. So, for a start, the analysis compares apples and pears.

The analysis is also incomplete. It only takes into account viewing to the main commercial networks (across one of their traditionally weaker audience periods) and, like most markets with a vibrant multi-channel offering, their share of viewing has been declining consistently, for something like 24 consecutive months. It also only includes live and same day viewing; so much of the timeshift viewing that has long been a feature of US TV viewing is taken out of the equation.

If we were to base the analysis on a longer time-span and a like-for-like comparison of all television viewing, Nielsen data shows a much more settled picture. For example, across the whole of the first quarter, total viewing is up and viewing amongst the all-important 18-49 demographic – the cord cutters and Netflix addicts (supposedly) – was actually up 2% on 2011.  In fact, across the whole TV season, from September 2011 to April 2012, both all individuals and 18-49 TV viewing levels were up on slightly on the previous year – and that, remember, is coming off a very high base.

There is a depressing familiarity to the speed with which this ‘TV is dying’ narrative continues to re-emerge. It only takes a few weeks’ data to set it off again, it is woefully ignorant of the context (e.g. the importance of Easter in the comparison) and it is based on wishful thinking, reminiscent of a time when “if we build it, they will come” was a staple phrase in most digital business plans.

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 david@medianative.tv.

Online research: the crack cocaine of media evaluation

September 12th, 2011

 A Thinkbox blog by David Brennan for Brand Republic

September 29 2010

 

The low cost, fast turnaround and ease of doing online research has turned it into the crack cocaine of media evaluation; we know it’s bad for us but it is also addictive and gives us an instant high.

So a big thumbs up and round of applause should go to the IAB in the USA. They have just released an independent review of the methods used to measure online advertising’s effectiveness via the internet.

This was a very brave move indeed by the IAB, given that these ‘surveys’ consistently claim that online advertising spend is significantly more effective than spend on established media. The IAB across the Atlantic took aim at many of its members’ own feet.

I doubt there was the sound of champagne corks hitting the ceiling when the results came in. Conducted by one of the leading research specialists in the USA, the review concluded that much of online effectiveness research is seriously undermined by extremely low response rates, problems of survey design and a lack of evidence that it is weighting the data to account for inherent biases in the system.

Most of these surveys work on an ‘intercept’ approach, which means that respondents are invited to take part in a survey via web pages which are serving the online ads of the brands being evaluated. It is a bit like asking people sitting in Burger King and eating Whoppers if they prefer Burger King and Whoppers to McDonalds and Big Macs.

Talking of whoppers, I am regularly shocked by how many people in our industry take these studies’ findings seriously. I was at the MRG Conference in London when one such online study was presented. It demonstrated that expenditure on a series of banner ads had been around twice as effective as spend on TV. In a moment of frustration, I asked the media agency presenting the research the following question:

“If, twenty years ago, I had presented research selling the effectiveness of newspaper advertising by saying we had recruited a sample of readers of a newspaper, they had responded to an invitation to take part in a survey that was on the same page as the ad being evaluated, and they had completed the survey in their newspaper before sending it off by post, and the research then concluded that newspaper advertising was by far the most effective for that brand, would I have been taken seriously?”

I never got a satisfactory answer.

Research into advertising effectiveness needs to be scrupulously fair. It needs to be unbiased and comprehensive. We cannot restrict our questions to online panels, as they only represent the 70-odd per cent of the population that are regularly online and also skew towards heavier online users. We cannot recruit them via the pages on which the advertising to be evaluated sits, as that introduces yet another level of bias. And we shouldn’t even be asking them to complete the survey online, as the context of the questions will add another bias towards online.

In short, and in line with the results of the IAB’s investigation, there are far too many biases to make the research even remotely viable. It is flawed before it starts – and that is before we factor in additional failings such as the short-term nature of the research (some media channels, most notably television, carry on delivering value many months after the campaign ends), or the fact that a single exposure to the online creative is given as much of a weighting as multiple exposures to other media channels.

This is an issue that Ipsos has already raised in the UK.  Studies that have previously always demanded intellectual rigour and methodological discipline have been dumbed-down, seduced by the instant ‘hit’ of data showing the results that were wanted in the first place. In the area of advertising effectiveness, which should surely be the most rigorous and scientific of all advertising research activities, we have developed an approach that offers plenty of data but very little insight, and that is fundamentally wrong.

But it is crack cocaine, so it is hard to wean people off it. So, well done the State-side IAB for tackling this issue – as it puts much of the data of its supporters under the spotlight – and for offering rehab.  Media research relies on mutual trust between the commissioner of that research and its audience, and it is only by taking a leadership role, as the IAB has done in the States, that we can ensure the many positive advantages of online research are not misused and that we have a set of insights we can trust and use.