At the end of last week, the South African Audience Research Foundation (SAARF) brought together the media industry to reveal its proposed new marketing research currency designed to replace the late AMPS, the demise of which, SAARF says, “left a gap in consumer behaviour and brands and product research that needs to be filled”. But even though much information was given about the initiative, the event raised a lot more questions, as illustrated by the question and answer session that took place during the gathering. Michael Bratt approached the SAARF board to answer these queries.
One of the questions asked during the Q&A, and reiterated by a few people after the event, was why this type of research was not being included in the imminent Establishment Survey (ES). A source told The Media Online at the event that several members of SAARF were involved with the ES tender and that it had looked like this research type was going to be included in the ES, but that at the last moment, a SAARF body member pulled out.
In response, the SAARF board clarified this situation. It said its involvement in the ES tender was limited, and to its knowledge, no tender was ever cancelled. “SAARF was never invited to be an ‘interested party’ in the BRC research. Some of our members asked the BRC to include in their tender a question as to what it might cost to add a possible Products & Brands component to the Establishment Survey, so that they and we could have an idea of costs. The BRC made it clear that they could not and would not fund a Brands and Product survey, and our members made it clear that they and/or SAARF did not have the funds to fund the study until or unless alternative funding options were found,” it said.
“The requested information would give a perspective on the funding that would have to be sourced, and would be used in the consultation process with marketers. The request was answered in the form of a PowerPoint document from the BRC’s service provider. The BRC CEO subsequently made it very clear to SAARF that the terms for any Brands and Products section had already been written into the contract with the service provider, and that it was non-negotiable that as a potential piggy-back to the ES, brands and products questions could be in the form of a leave-behind survey only. Such a survey however clearly requires face-to-face interviews,” the SAARF board said.
It added that marketers would also not be allowed to add any questions to the ES, even if they funded those questions and labelled the BRC ES a “very rigid and non-negotiable framework that would not serve the marketers at all”.
But, it added, “we have no issue with that, for as our proposal clearly states, our stakeholders want independent research”.
The Establishment Survey, it said, was designed to give media owners a sample frame for their own research in order to sell their services to marketers, and it was “up to the media owners to convince marketers and agencies of the efficacy and validity of their research into the performance of their channels and platforms. But marketers need independent, neutral, transparent, audited consumer focused product, brand, and media consumption research – not media focused research – and they need it to be done by an organisation driven by their needs and strategic priorities. There was thus no further consultation with the BRC for obvious reasons”.
Misrepresenting the real SA population
A concern that was raised by a source after the event was the belief that the new research currency would be modelled on AMPS, only revamped and fresher, as indicated by SAARF during its presentation. AMPS was criticised for its misrepresentation of the real South African population as its sampling was rarely updated; instead weighting was utilised to fix the sampling issue.
“The following are the exact words used by Virginia Hollis – the chairperson of SAARF – at the event: ‘Any new industry research must be at the cutting edge of new and best practice. There is no value whatsoever in staying stuck in convention … all constructive criticism levelled at the old SAARF has been taken on board, and the new entity will reflect the transformation our industry needs. The new research currency will be a full professional assimilation of the very best and most contemporary methodologies and practices, applied in a model tailored for the specific objectives of this new study and future currency,” the board said in its statement.
“There has been some valid criticism of the last years of AMPS – and also a lot of totally disingenuous and inaccurate criticism of a currency that served marketers and their agencies very well until the end – but that is all water down the river now. There is no point in embarking on this new initiative if it is not cutting edge, totally in tune with latest and best practice, and fully fit for its purpose and within the economics of what is fit and right. So, all subscribers should be assured that we will deliver a product that is a combination of the best of the old and the very best of the new.”
The statement added, “Sampling is a function of what is being researched, and what marketers and agencies are looking to achieve with the research. The sampling for the new research will be designed in-line with best practice and the advice and guidance we receive from international and local experts.”
Too short a timeframe
A deadline of a month was given to marketers to express their interest in the proposed research currency. Some attendees of the event questioned whether this deadline was too tight and unrealistic, particularly since the timing is not at the beginning or end of the budget cycle for marketers.
In response, SAARF said, “We would not have announced a timeframe we thought was unrealistic. But what we in fact said was that the window of opportunity is now open and will stay open for as long as is needed to get the minimum subscription, and that we are planning on this being by the end of March. All stakeholders are keen for the process to be expedited. It’s time for marketers to apply their minds and indicate their support or not. An initial expression of interest is all that is needed to kick-start the process. And, as we are driving the process, we will obviously be pragmatic about determining when key milestones have been reached.”
At the event SAARF said it estimated that 60 – 90 marketers needed to buy into the proposed research to make it feasible. A subscription model was proposed, rather than an industry levy.
Engagement with marketers
Another question raised was how many marketers SAARF had interacted with during the consultation period. “We have engaged across a broad front with marketers, agencies and their clients, and researchers, we are currently doing so, and will continue to. Our proposal stresses that it is our goal to deliver research for marketers in collaboration and cooperation with marketers and their agents,” SAARF replied.
SAARF to evolve into the MRF
In the statement the SAARF board also clarified that should it receive commitment in principle from enough potential subscribers, it would be replaced by a new ‘Marketing Research Foundation’ which would be resourced to handle the scope and final implementation plan for this project.
“We are in a good state of readiness for that. A MOI for the new entity has already been agreed to by the stakeholders, and is ready to be implemented. A new name is registered, and the entity will be in the position to immediately commence the business of the new initiative and start the RFP process, resourcing, and contractual commitments of all stakeholders. A small skeleton staff has been retained by SAARF to see us to this point. Skills key to the future needs of the new Foundation will be retained, and new fit for purpose skills and talent will be recruited to ensure the professional management of the supplier process and all stakeholder delivery,” it explained.
What if there’s very little buy-in?
The obvious question of what would happen to SAARF, and consumer behaviour and brand and product research, if the industry body didn’t get the required buy-in rate for this research was also posed.
“The proposed research can only happen if enough subscribers sign up to cover the cost of the product. The new research foundation will – like SAARF – be a non-profit initiative solely for the benefit of its members and subscribers. The more subscribers there are, the more affordable the new product will be, with the opportunity of adding to the scope and robustness of the study, and it being able to grow with marketers’ changing needs and market developments,” it said.
“If it does not go ahead, there will be no need for SAARF and no funding for it, so it will have to be wound down and closed. The research simply won’t happen. Marketers will have to find their own solutions to their research needs. They won’t benefit from a common industry currency that will enable them to benchmark their products and brands. They won’t benefit from the economies of scale that this industry initiative gives, and they will thus each pay a premium for whatever research they can afford to commission for themselves. They won’t benefit from having access to independent broad industry-wide research. Their media agency’s planning will thus be less rigorous, less predictable, and less accountable than it could be. Product development and category understanding will be more expensive, and dependent on ‘siloed’ and ‘unbenchmarked’ data. It’s been a full year now since the last AMPS report, and we are now finally staring the reality of that loss in the face: the cliché that you don’t know what you had until you‘ve lost it!”
Reemphasising independent research
The SAARF board concluded with this message, “Marketers are clear that they need independent, neutral, transparent, audited consumer focused product, brand, and media consumption research, and they need it to be done by an organisation driven by their needs and their strategic priorities, and not the commercial objectives of media owners. This proposed research will provide a common integrated view of the market with a strong inter-media focus, and a powerful marketing orientation. All for the price of just one two-hundredth or less of what a subscriber spends on advertising! It’s time for marketers and their agencies to rally together and recruit enough early adopters to make this happen. We are also conscious of the needs of agencies and other users of products, brands and segmental data, and will be engaging further to be able to also meet their needs on an equitable basis.”
Follow Michael Bratt on Twitter @MichaelBratt8