A lot has been said about the South African Advertising Research Foundation (SAARF) – some positive and a lot very critical. So The Media asked two pivotal players in this industry for their opinions.
Virginia Hollis, MD at The MediaShop (Sandton), who is also SAARF deputy chairperson, talks from a SAARF persepective. Gordon Patterson, group MD of Starcom MediaVest Group, takes an opposing view, and doesn’t pull his punches.
Hollis: SAARF answers your questions
With so much said about SAARF, I honestly don’t believe that many people know exactly what its purpose is, and why it is important for our industry to maintain this often misunderstood organisation.
The fact is, whatever we as an industry do in the next couple of months with SAARF will leave either a legacy of mediocrity or success. I am on the SAARF board to help push it to the latter. I would not be there if I did not believe in SAARF.
One of the things we seem to forget is that SAARF is run and funded by the industry, so the organisation’s success or failure is completely in our hands. The current debate around the levy has been going on for years. I do not think that there is any argument about the levy being increased; the issue is around how it is to be collected and paid over. So, please can we get this sorted out?
SAARF is made up of a board representative of all the industry associations and permanent staff members. The board’s role is to ensure that SAARF continues to deliver gold standard research. There should be no hidden agenda: no one medium is favoured over another and no one medium gets benefit without making the correct financial contribution.
The foundation’s survey is the All Media and Products Survey (AMPS), and it contains the country’s demographics as well as all the media, products, services and attitudinal questions. The census data collection was recently done and, once this data is available, the demographics in AMPS will be adjusted to mirror the census data.
Every year, the industry is asked to review the questions in AMPS and recommend which questions should come out and what needs to be added. I urge the media, agencies and marketers to take more interest in this process and really scrutinise the questionnaire. Make sure that we do not take out something important to your market.
Right now we, at SAARF, have three pillars: AMPS, Radio Audience Measurement Survey (RAMS) and Television Audience Measurement Survey (TAMS). We are hoping that in the next 12 months we will have an outdoor pillar. Research is not cheap, especially when you are venturing into an area that is extremely difficult to research, like outdoor.
I don’t think there is a planner out there who would not welcome some solid information on Out of Home. We would probably get the answers a lot quicker if more industry players contributed, and the fact that they do not contribute makes me think that they do not want research, and why would that be?
Maybe because they know they will not look good and they will stop receiving support. I do not have the answer to this. But I do know that the project needs more financial support. Maybe the agencies and marketers could put pressure on the ‘non-contributors’.
We get great information out of RAMS and TAMS, and they are fully funded by their sectors and the broadcasters have no hesitation in adding additional funding when it is required.
Online and mobile are playing an increasing role in advertising in South Africa, so SAARF must address this need. More questions have been added into the 2012 study but, by the time this research is released, both the questions and answers will be old.
The Digital Media and Marketing Association (DMMA) already has representation on the SAARF board, and I know that it has already released some of its own research. In the very near future, we will need to find a way to merge the two, and then we will have to see how we can take it further. This is an incredibly important developmental area for all of us.
With budgets getting tighter, good research becomes more and more important. SAARF has always been important to the communications industry, but going forward, it will be even more important. We have to maintain that gold standard. We are one of the few countries in the world that has credible national research. Countries like the US envy what we have accomplished and maintained. I urge media owners to resolve the levy issue to let us progress.
When I started in the industry, we used AMPS books and life was fairly simple. TV had only just begun, radio was controlled by the SABC, there were a lot less print titles and we did not have computers. Today, decisions are complex; there is so much data to analyse and so much ‘garbage’ to sift through, I’m happy there is an organisation I can trust to give me relevant, trustworthy and impartial information. You, too, should be happy that SAARF is there to answer your questions.
Patterson: A time for change
As we start the new year with its new opportunities, trials and tribulations, our focus naturally turns to the research upon which we base our decisions.
Seeking a sense of certainty has always been a fundamental human pursuit over the ages, but it is perhaps now more important than ever. Failure to read or understand the future risks not only concerns financial resources, but also the very survival of a brand or company.
Consumers in our market are evolving rapidly, and stereotypical descriptions and segmentation studies can no longer capture the texture of the changes adequately to reveal insights. We know, for example, that demography is no longer a great way of segmenting markets. Lifestyle, perceptions and beliefs are far stronger differentiators. The current census will, I’m sure, confirm that we’re living in a very different South Africa to what we think we’re living in and, hence, SAARF’s contribution will be critical.
Media fragmentation, convergence and reinvention are key drivers in our market. We need to understand more about how consumers engage with platforms, what their mindsets are and what informs their choices. The fact that today we have over 20% of radio listenership being delivered via a cellphone is a startling revelation that could enable this medium to not only be seen as an Out of Home platform but also a direct response device.
Short-term planning has become the norm as the willingness to make long-term commitments declines. Brand management ‘churn’ coupled with volatile marketing budgets mean the efficiencies of scale enjoyed previously are no longer possible. Plans are now constantly being reworked.
With change in the media landscape, we’re seeing media inflation being less of a seasonal debate and more of a constant point of concern. Value has become key as irresponsible pricing and discounting make ‘base’ analysis meaningless. To accomplish this, it’s now critical to understand platform trends, as value is only delivered at the point of exposure and not when the deals are done.
Consumers have come a long way from the 1980s, when brand loyalty could be banked upon. Brand repertories have increased as consumers see increased brand parity. In addition brand heritage, which could be relied on in the past to both reassure and defend a price premium, has little or no contribution to decision-making. A growing number of these consumers today have no history or perceptions of ‘big ticket’ brands.
Our research has for many years been the envy of the world, but recently this ‘glow’ has faded – and while SAARF cannot be held responsible, it’s nevertheless a contributor.
So with all of the global ‘macro’ elements and our own ‘micro’ influencers, this is what I think went wrong with SAARF. First, let me say that it’s easy to criticise when one’s not involved… but I am involved, and I see the tremendous efforts by the SAARF team to get it right, and move forward by consensus – but herein lies the flaw.
In theory, ‘consensus’ sounds like a good idea, but not here! Here, democracy as consensus never delivers what’s required, but always results in the minimum acceptable to everyone, and sometimes this is a step backwards.
Democracy makes decision-making accountable and, in turn, ensures that all parties contribute equally. It improves the quality of decision-making and drives efficiency.
If we had equal contribution from all constituents within the SAARF structure then consensus might work better. However, the fact remains that media owners are more organised, they’re better represented and have a clearer understanding of what they want, compared to the marketer representation. It’s therefore not surprising that media owners drive the change within SAARF. The absence of a credible weight of advertiser interest has created the imbalance.
Recently, in meeting with representatives of several media platforms, I’ve noted a growing appreciation for the role of advertisers in defining industry research needs. The media owners who historically took possession of the levy funds to promote their medium now realise that research is not about producing statistics to sell but rather to understand.
So how do we improve the SAARF output?
• Encourage a move to democracy and away from consensus.
• Support SAARF/media owner demands for senior marketer participation.
• Encourage marketers to reclaim their contribution to industry research, and make it applicable on all formats where industry research is used to inform
• Campaign for more qualitative research. We need to understand why?
• We need SAARF to lead with recommendations, rather than follow the
local industry thinking. If this is not going to happen, then there’s no need for SAARF
to participate in global conferences.
SAARF has a difficult task, made impossible by a lack of marketer commitment. We need to stop talking about changing SAARF and rather start talking about changing the way we engage with this critical industry body.