Media research companies gather information on consumer behaviour and social trends that are used by the entire spectrum of the media world, from agencies to publishers. If you want to know about xenophobic attitudes among South Africans, or what adverts people respond to, or precisely which products fill a kitchen cupboard, there’s a study for you, or an organisation that can conduct one.
Market research groups
The definitive research currencies are overseen by the South African Advertising Research Foundation (Saarf). They are the All Media and Products Survey (Amps, which includes print), the Radio Audience Measurement Survey (Rams) and the Television Audience Measurement Survey (Tams). For media buyers and planners, these surveys provide data on who is consuming what and when, without which advertisers would not know where to place their advertising.
However, not all stakeholders consider the Saarf research reliable. Saarf, formed in 1974, is a non-profit organisation and has over the years been criticised for, among other things, the small size of its Tams surveys (big surveys cost more) and their methodology. Yet there are no other surveys that provide unified currencies and Rams, Tams and Amps are generally considered ‘bibles’ for media planners.
Nielsen’s ‘watch’ arm carries out the majority of Saarf’s surveys and has done so for over 20 years. Head of the watch division, managing director of media Craig Johnson, says his division also measures advertising expenditure with Nielsen AdEx. AdEx data is used by their subscribers, such as agencies, broadcasters, publishers and brand owners, to understand who is spending what, and on what media. Nielsen’s ‘buy’ arm does customised research projects for clients that can involve any aspect of consumer behaviour. It measures and monitors customer satisfaction, how people are responding to a particular ad campaign, the best placement of merchandise in a store, what brands are stocked in people’s cupboards, the political parties people vote for and so on. It also runs Bases, designed to help brands innovate by predicting the potential of new product launches.
Media research guru Jos Kuper says that many in the research industry see Nielsen’s practical monopoly over the Saarf research as “counterproductive and unhealthy for accountability, checks and balances, innovation and competitiveness in cost terms”.
Other large companies who do media research are Ipsos and TNS Research Surveys. Each has their own products and unique selling propositions. TNS’s Media Research can measure TV audience behaviour electronically using Return Path Data (RPD) from set top boxes. The company says it is the only organisation worldwide operating RPD. Ipsos are the third largest market research company in the world and conduct surveys in areas of specialisation including advertising; innovation and brand research; and social research and corporate reputation.
There are independent researchers, too, conducting surveys. One of these is futurefact, of which Kuper is a director. futurefact has since 1998 measured the attitudes, values and beliefs, as well as the media consumption, of South Africans. Kuper says it is important to monitor social trends “because attitudes precede behaviour”. In 2008, for example, futurefact noted that xenophobic feeling was running high in SA, months before that sentiment erupted into violence. In 2013, using Nielsen researchers, they conducting interviews with 3 000 people throughout the country (other than in deep rural areas) based on a random probability sample.
futurefact research is used by clients such as BrandSA, an organisation whose mandate is to build national pride and promote trade, investment and tourism; and many media owners, including MultiChoice, Media24 and Primedia, which use the research for positioning TV channels, radio stations and newspapers.
Kuper’s team are involved in the “futureproofing” drive initiated by Saarf chairperson Clare O’Neil and the Saarf board. O’Neil wrote on themediaonline.co.za last year that the idea is to get the media industry working together as a body in a rapidly changing environment to make sure that Saarf’s currencies remain relevant. Kuper says the futureproofing Saarf project is seeking what doesn’t yet exist: “A comprehensive, accepted way of measuring multimedia platforms in the digital age, as well as to look into the way joint industry research is structured in other parts of the world and what could have relevance for us going forward.” The Kuper Research task team is due to workshop their recommendations to the Saarf Futureproofing committee and Saarf board at the end of July.
Other top researchers in SA include consumer insights group Target Group Index (TGI), founded in 2002 by Barbara Cooke (who writes for us on page 30). TGI is a very thorough, single-source survey, meaning that one person fills out all the information, to give a detailed profile of a consumer. The data is used by brand owners, PR firms and media owners. Millward Brown is another big player, offering market research in such areas as brand strategy and channel optimisation.
Digital research is carried out by the Digital Media and Marketing Association (DMMA), which turned 10 in May. Research head Gustav Goosen says the organisation is trying to contribute to the research landscape despite limited resources. The DMMA provides funding for research, but not enough to afford heavy or large-scale research and the funding does not increase year on year. “The research we do is complementary or supplementary to what is already out there, like Amps. We also do research for companies,” says Goosen. “The challenge is that we have a mixed bag of members who want different research at different times, focusing on different things.”
The DMMA partnered with Columinate last year to conduct research into online shopping behaviour. Says Goosen: “We are looking into the feasibility of running that again. If we can do it over a long period of time it starts to add value in terms of being able to see patterns and shifts in consumption trends.
“Our members may say, ‘Can’t we rather look at x, y, z, some particular area of need.’ But if we concede to that kind of request, this dipstick approach, it makes it extremely difficult to spot trends.” Digital research used here comes mainly from the UK and the US, which is problematic because these are totally different markets to SA, he adds.
DMMA is a voluntary organisation whose members have “day jobs”. They work with Saarf and sit on the Amps board, though they are not expected to pay membership fees, a courtesy for which Goosen is grateful. “Amps is useful,” says Goosen. “It’s the only universally deployed study that leads to a one-size-fits-all approach. This obviously has its downside. If you speak to a community radio station and ask them if they are happy with Rams they probably will say they are under-represented. The same kind of challenge applies to digital.”
Digital occupies two pages in the Amps survey: one page for digital, one page for mobile. The DMMA is trying to influence what questions are asked. “There are only 10 or 12 questions in total, which are very few. It looks at digital consumption in a very top-of-the-line, simplistic way. Tams and Rams get their own studies,” says Goosen.
Digital media straddles the traditional media, so as part of the futureproofing Saarf project, the DMMA may look at whether media measurements should be siloed.
Amps does measure outdoor media, as does TGI’s survey. However, sources in the outdoor industry say that accurate research in this sector is compromised by the fact that a lot of measurement technology is patented by an American, Roger Percy. Percy is CEO of a company based in Seattle called RDP Associates that develops GPS technology for measuring the exposure of drivers and pedestrians to outdoor advertising. Because Percy controls the patents, using his technology is prohibitively expensive, as would be overturning the patents. However, outdoor media owners are coming up with ways to circumvent the need to use Percy’s technology, particularly as it becomes outdated.
Media owners may run their own surveys and research. RamsayMedia, for instance, last year contracted the University of Cape Town’s Unilever Institute of Strategic Marketing to run a project called Top End. Top End looked at the upper end of the upper LSMs, says Professor John Simpson of the institute, finding that it was a surprisingly heterogeneous group. The institute does research into anything considered to be of importance to marketers in SA and was responsible for the landmark study of so-called ‘Black Diamonds’ in 2005.
Caxton CTP, due to dissatisfaction with the ability of Amps to measure the elements relevant to their community newspapers, commission their own readership survey that is conducted by TNS. Roots surveys Purchase Decision Makers and is conducted every three years. Media24’s advertising division Ads24 has a similar tool, Compass24, which canvasses the community newspaper readership of South Africans in the Media24 footprint areas. DStv’s research arm, DStv-i, promotes its own currency across all its channels. This is intended to complement Tams, but the two are separate databases. The Times Media Group’s Sabre is a tool for media planners who want to evaluate the business market. It was set up in 1986 to fill a gap, as “Amps is primarily a consumer survey and the respondent bases did not cater for the needs of business titles”, according to information provided by TMG market research manager Lynette Benjamin.
Says Kuper: “The international media audience research community has been very generous in sharing their practices and learnings with us and are keen to hear what our futureproofing exercise delivers.
“While it will not be easy to move away from historical precedent and practice, we are hopeful that South African industry research will effectively ride the change wave as media fragment, media platforms proliferate and social and technological trends accelerate.”