Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ 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.


October 16th, 2012


 I’m a sucker for a good quotation. The best can make a point far more eloquently and concisely than I ever could, which is why I use them in my presentations all the time. Sometimes it may be historical figures – for example Henry Ford’s “a man who stops advertising to save money is like a man who stops a clock to save time” or Samuel Johnson’s famous quote about advertising overload (written in 1759). Other times, it may be celebrity classics (Arnold Schwarzenegger – “I think gay marriage should be between a man and a woman”) or homespun words of wisdom (“A computer might beat you at chess, but you can always beat it at kick boxing”)

There will never be a definitive list of my favourite quotations, but from a media perspective, the following are all contenders.

  1. 1.       “Humans are to independent thinking as cats are to swimming – we can do it when we have to, but we’d much prefer not to.”

This quote is from Daniel Kahneman, the first ever psychologist to win the Nobel Prize for Economics, and the founder of behavioural economics. This idea, that humans spend as much of their time as possible on auto-pilot and only employ their cognitive brain when they have to, has been advanced by numerous experts from neuroscience, cognitive psychology, economics and marketing and yet a disturbingly high proportion of marketing spend is still aimed at the cognitive, attention-based part of our brain, which (according to Rory Sutherland) is “not the Oval Office, making executive decisions, but the press office, issuing explanations for decisions we have already taken”; another favourite quotation.

Kahneman’s work helped to open our eyes to the power of emotion and the long-term, implicit mind within marketing, although there is still reluctance amongst many in the industry to embrace it. The stultifying certainties of the traditional models of communications and influence are much preferred, even though they have been proven wrong time and time again.


  1. 2.       “Choice is cherished, but choosing is a chore”

This single one-liner pretty much sums up the argument behind Barry Schwarz’s ‘The Paradox of Choice’, but the book is no less important for that. It is a fact of life that we have never been offered so much choice, and never been more prepared to simplify and minimise the choosing process.

How we choose – through habit, instinct, heuristics or via trusted intermediaries – has a huge impact on the roles of marketing and media. We are less homo economicus, applying thought, logic and rational self-interest to our consumer decision-making; we are more homo whimsicalus, allowing a wide range of factors to influence our judgement, such as emotion, social pressures and context. We will generally favour brands that make choosing less of a chore and create the emotional associations that make heuristics simple and intuitive to apply.


  1. 3.       “Tell me a fact, and I may remember. Tell me a truth and I may believe. But tell me a story and it will live in my heart forever”

This is generally referenced as an ancient Indian proverb, and that is highly appropriate. The power of storytelling to influence learning, memory and human development is as ancient as mankind and applies to social movements, religion (all of the great religions have storytelling at their heart), education and even brands. As the proverb says, stories live in our hearts forever – through our emotions (heart) and memories (forever). Emotions and memory – that is where brands live!

There has been a revival of interest in the role of storytelling within modern-day marketing, mainly through the concept of transmedia storytelling.  Major multinationals now employ storytelling specialists within their marketing function as a matter of course. Although I sometimes worry that the emphasis is often too much on the transmedia and not enough on the storytelling, this is a welcome development. Until brands learn what their ‘story’ is, how to best communicate and spread it, and how it influences the purchase decision, much of their media spend will be wasted.

When even the CEO of Google comments that;

“That’s the gift of advertising – to connect with people in a human way – to make the kind of emotional connections that are at the core of story telling.”

then you know it’s important.


  1. 4.       “ The problem with market research is that people don’t think how they feel, they don’t say what they think, and they don’t do what they say”

This quote is usually attributed to David Ogilvy, although I have been unable to locate the source. If any David Ogilvy fans out there can help out, that would be much appreciated, otherwise I’m going to start claiming it as my own. I would love to – after all, it is pithy, witty and completely true.

Even today, most market research is based on asking people to say what they think. We now know that this is the most unreliable and limited way to get at the truth. We should spend more time and money looking at what they do and how they feel.  As the previous quotations suggest, what we think has a very small influence on our decision-making, and what we say we think is often based on biases created by phenomena such as post-rationalisation, self-representation, confabulation and memory degradation. And yet marketers still spout out awareness levels, tracking scores and brand preference indices as if they were goals in themselves.

Whenever I have had the opportunity to look inside the heads of consumers – through neuroscience, biometrics, implicit measurement techniques or ethnography – the insights are far deeper, richer and more meaningful than anything that ever came out of survey research or focus groups. Even though David Ogilvy was a keen user of market research during his own career (“advertising people who ignore research are as dangerous as generals who ignore decodes of enemy signals”) I firmly believe that he would have cottoned on to this fundamental flaw in the traditional research model if he had been with us today.


  1. 5.       “The Medium is the message”

Like David Ogilvy, Marshall McLuhan has been responsible for many memorable quotes.  It was he who gave the phrase “turn on, tune in and drop out” to psychedelic guru Timothy Leary (although he claimed never to have tried LSD himself, explaining to Playboy magazine that he’d rather be an observer than a participant), as well as the insight that “we look at the present through a rear view mirror. We march backwards into the future”

The medium is the message” has become such an aphorism that I think it has lost a great deal of its meaning.  It was written at a time when media plurality was reaching unprecedented proportions and the power of context was beginning to be understood. We now know, especially through the advances made in behavioural economics, just how important the surrounding context is in terms of how a piece of communication is received, processed and acted upon. How, where, when and through what channels the communication is received are all part of that context, and it makes the media practitioner’s role more important than ever before.

So, why don’t we incorporate it into media practice far more often? As I have written in previous blogs, we are still far more interested in the exposure metrics and far less enthusiastic about engagement research as an industry, and yet that is where the real power of media lies and where the real value can be mined.

Maybe it is time to turn on, tune in and drop out – from the counting culture to the counter-culture.  Marshall would be delighted.

What Are We Reaching For?

July 13th, 2011

I attended the Mediatel ‘Future of Online’ seminar last week, where much was made of the launch of UKOM, the online industry’s (belated) attempt to get a measure of exposure and reach with the aim of attracting more brand display revenues.

Now, this may seem strange, given that television achieves levels of reach that other media channels can only dream about, but we need to think beyond exposure and reach in terms of planning integrated media campaigns. Yes, I know that commercial TV delivers well over three quarters of the UK population every day and well over 90% every week, across the vast majority of target demographics, but comparisons with other media based on such data disguise the real impact each medium creates and the camouflage comes from the media measurement systems themselves.

All of the main metrics – reach, frequency, impacts, impressions, ratings – are based on the concept of opportunity to see/listen/read, and yet the difference between opportunity and delivery will vary hugely depending on the media measurement vehicle. TV measures the audience in the room whilst the set is on, minute by minute, so that we can be confident all of those featured in the measurement will have had some exposure, even if they had their backs to the screen – especially as BARB carries out coincidental checks to make sure who is reported to be in the room at any moment in time is in fact present. Press readership, meanwhile, is based on anybody who has spent at least two minutes reading or looking at any printed copy in the past 12 months, whether or not they even opened the page on which the ad appears; consequently, actual exposure to the ad itself requires a much greater leap of faith. My understanding is that online ‘reach’ will fall somewhere between these two extremes. My point is that, when these reach numbers are placed in a media plan, they are generally considered to be equivalent in value and impact.

Results from a really interesting study by the Television Bureau of Canada helps to put some of this disparity, or false equivalence, into perspective. They observed people watching TV, reading newspapers, listening to radio and interacting online in as natural a context as possible. They used a wide range of biometric and cognitive measures, including eye tracking, in order to determine how long each ad was ‘processed’. On average, the TV advertising generated more than three times the engagement than radio ads (and, possibly connected with this finding, almost three times the next day adjusted recall levels). TV ads achieved 40% more next day recall and 80% more engagement than online video (via pre-rolls). TV delivered five times the next day recall and twelve times the visual attention of online display in general. Against press, meanwhile, TV achieved more than five times the total advertising engagement.

The problem with the media measurement vehicles is that they cannot account for these differences in engagement, attention or recall, and so if an overall reach figure is achieved from a mix of media channels, it will treat them all as equal; there is nothing like a spreadsheet for providing the appearance of consistency and equivalence, whereas what will be happening in the lives of the consumers they reach will provide a very different story…