One of the core tools for media agencies and owners is research. While the media industry is changing at a dizzying speed, this isn’t reflected in what’s available and many believe there isn’t enough independent research to help planners and strategists.
This is at the heart of the controversy that plagued the South African Research Foundation (Saarf) last year, an ugly battle between stakeholders that was sparked by the resignation of the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) from the Saarf board in June.
In short, the NAB wanted more seats on the board (75%) to reflect the percentage of their financial contribution. When this was not granted, the NAB resigned from the research body that has been servicing both media owners and agencies with independent data for almost four decades.
NAB’s members haven’t been happy with the way Saarf conducts its research for a long time. They say the methodology used to measure the All Media and Products Survey (Amps) as well as the Radio Audience Measurement Survey (Rams) and the Television Audience Measurement Survey (Tams) is outdated and doesn’t mirror the way audience consumption patterns have changed.
A catalyst for transformation
A year later, the sting of NAB’s resignation has healed somewhat and has been a catalyst for transformation within the media marketing research community.
The NAB has decided to go it alone by initiating a tender process for the design, development and implementation of a new South African radio audience and currency survey. In an effort to ensure the process is fair, the body appointed a local consultancy to manage the process. It also tapped into the expertise of UK-based research consultant Roger Gane for technical input.
Nadia Bulbulia, the executive director of the NAB, says she was “overwhelmed” by as many as 23 companies showing an interest in formulating the new survey. “We’ve received a very positive and encouraging response from these companies,” she says. “Our priority is to ensure that there is a smooth transition phase to the new radio currency so that there is some kind of stability for all involved.”
Meanwhile, Tams has been given a makeover too. Nielsen, along with Saarf, has included 55% more households in the survey panel in an attempt to update and expand the television audience measurement process. As such, it aims to be more representative of the increasing number of people who are Nguni speakers, as well as those in the LSM 5-7 category.
Television broadcasters had called for an audit of the Tams panel after the SABC and e.tv experienced a drop in ratings in the LSM 5-7 category, the largest consumers of free-to-air television. The audit found that Tams research only partially measured certain homes, resulting in the over-representation of upper income television households on the Tams panel. This was to the detriment of middle-to-lower income television households that were significantly under-represented.
Before the NAB’s resignation, Saarf had embarked upon a ‘futureproofing’ project to ensure it remained relevant. The foundation enlisted the help of a task team spearheaded by Jos Kuper of Kuper Research to explore best practices in audience measurement across multiple media platforms.
The conclusion is that a central establishment survey needs to be conducted in which all stakeholders participate. Each media type organises its own research, so there would be Tams, Rams, Pams (for print), Dams (digital) and Ohms (outdoor). Their industry-specific data would then be fused with the central survey.
Kuper says the biggest challenge in getting the establishment survey off the ground will be resisting the temptation to overload it again.
“A basic framework for an establishment survey was agreed upon [by Saarf stakeholders], and now ongoing collaboration will be essential to ensure the establishment survey remains just that and doesn’t become cumbersome,” says Kuper.
Measuring ‘how’ and not ‘how many’
Many media owners conduct their own research because they feel that organisations like Saarf aren’t doing research that caters to their specific needs.
In 2010, Caxton launched the Central Intelligence Unit (CIU), its own marketing and research division. The company commissioned what has become a well-respected readership survey called Roots, which is conducted every three years by the market research group, TNS Research Surveys.
Media24’s community newspaper readership is also independently measured with a similar tool called Compass24, an initiative led by the company’s advertising division, Ads24.
There are numerous other media owner-funded surveys, some more or less helpful to media agencies.
But, says Ross Sergeant, OMD South Africa’s group director of strategy, the bulk of media owner research is “disappointing”.
“It usually tries to emulate [the British single-source marketing survey] Target Group Index (TGI), and Amps with the aim of pushing the media category or vehicle. It is usually quantitative, which is a fatal flaw as the true value of media owner research would be how consumers interact with their media not how many,” says Sergeant.
“Sadly most, if not all, the media owner-commissioned research is one-sided, limited in brand categories and falls short on psychographic insight. It is great that media owner research is commissioned but I do believe they should focus more on insights on how consumers consume their media. The delivery of media owner research presentations needs to be done by the research houses that worked on them rather than the reps or media sales teams who tend not to fully grasp the research.”
Sergeant believes that media owner research can be useful if a media agency has already decided to buy particular media because the research will provide better insight into particular consumers.
Erica Gunning, managing director of the MEC Group, says media owner research doesn’t give clients and media agencies unbiased research. “My concern is that we will end up with biased research to skew the use of their [media owner] media and agendas,” says Gunning.
“We, as agencies, need to provide our clients with a credible source of research that informs channel decisions with no bias, and is driven by the usage of the target market. We need one source so we can fairly evaluate each medium for the true value it offers clients and not in isolation of the big picture.”
Growing digital media and advertising
The media industry has been critical of the dearth of usable research on online media. However, the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) South Africa has made significant progress in growing the online media industry’s research profile in recent months.
Last year the IAB SA announced it had determined a more accurate way of measuring South Africa’s online community. Previously the only insight into digital audiences was Effective Measure’s traffic data, which measures unique browsers. As a joint venture between IAB SA and Echo Consultancy, these metrics have now been weighted to Amps’s multiple device usage.
Local internet penetration has been difficult to pin down in the past because of what is known as ‘respondent confusion’, where Amps respondents don’t associate websites accessed via mobile with internet browsing.
Towards the end of 2013, IAB SA announced that Effective Measure data would be integrated into the industry standard media planning tool, Telmar, a development only possible because of IAB SA’s previous research into local internet penetration.
“By integrating this audience data into Telmar, digital is no longer for specialist agencies,” says Jarred Cinman, the chair of the IAB SA. “Traditional agencies can also start working with data that is believable and reliable. This is definitely a revolutionary move to increase digital’s portion of the ad spend pie.”
IAB SA’s next move is to commission Pricewaterhouse Coopers (PwC) to conduct a study that measures precisely how many advertising dollars are spent on digital media in South Africa.
This is a question he is often asked, says Cinman, and the truth is that nobody knows exactly how much money marketers spend on digital channels.
“Nielsen’s ad exchange suffers from under-reporting and so is not an accurate reflection. PwC gets competitive data from media owners and agencies so it is a lot more accurate,” he says.
Cinman suspects digital is getting more of the ad spend pie than everyone thinks, and that uncovering the real number is another revolutionary move for the market as it allows digital to be accurately reported.
Independent research pioneers
There are also a number of independent research companies conducting their own interesting media audience research.
Global research firm Millward Brown understands that the most effective media plans are those that combine traditional and digital channels creatively. The company has pioneered CrossMedia Research which, says Andrzej Suski, Millward Brown’s head of media solutions for Africa and the Middle East, was born out of three major marketing developments.
The first, he says, is the emergence of multimedia campaigns as clients realise the sense in spreading their campaigns across a number of channels.
“Secondly, the traditional way of understanding a campaign’s performance is to understand awareness. But this isn’t why advertising is done,” says Suski. “It’s done to make people change their view of the brand and then to do something about that. It goes beyond awareness and extends into sales performance.”
The third point, he says, is that there has been a greater emphasis on measuring return on investment (ROI) in recent years.
“Marketers need to know what works and what doesn’t. If they don’t understand the benefits, they can’t prove the value of the campaign. So it’s all about accountability,” says Suski.
Similarly, independent market research company Ask Afrika recently announced the release of the Digital Barometer, a collaboration with Arthur Goldstuck of World Wide Worx that looks at the level of technology sophistication in South Africa.
Sarina de Beer, managing director of Ask Africa, says understanding technology usage is in itself not enough and that it is just as important to understand why people use technology.
Using data from the TGI survey, the population is segmented into different groups based on each group’s level of digital literacy. Digital usage patterns and motivational drivers are then modelled to create each segment.
“We’ve found that marketers understand social media platforms but they don’t know the reason why people use them,” says De Beer. “Different segments of the population engage with social media differently. We almost cut out the lowest LSMs because we think that they are not there yet. These are the kinds of misconceptions we have to address.”
Goldstuck also collaborates with online media monitoring company Fuseware to produce the annual Social Landscape report, which examines the social media and social business activities of Africa’s top 200 companies.
“From our perspective of research, media agencies can actually take social data in order to help optimise their strategy and campaigns,” says Mike Wronski, the managing director of Fuseware. “We firmly believe that social data has the power to influence through the line media strategies.”
The future of media research
Kuper maintains that the dynamism of the media is not something to be overwhelmed by, but an opportunity for media, advertisers and marketing industries to grab the proverbial bull by the horns and ride the wave of change.
“What is the point of measuring a currency in the ‘wrong’ way for current realities? What is the point of expecting more from respondents than they can deliver? What is the point of ignoring ‘real’ reading of newspapers irrespective of platform?” asks Kuper.
The futureproofing project, she says, was global and local in its span, interrogating the best practice scenarios in a variety of contexts, and distilling the findings for South Africa.
“This cannot be the end of it,” says Kuper. “First implementation should happen according to collaborative decisions by all concerned, and then each joint industry committee, and Saarf itself, should ensure they have an eye on the rapidly changing media landscape into the future.”
This story was first published in the July 2014 issue of The Media magazine.
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