I have been lucky enough to have had a few months off, reading and travelling. It certainly clears the head and gives one the opportunity to look at situations with the benefit of distance and objectivity. There are many issues that currently bedevil the advertising media industry, but one that is fundamental to all stakeholders is the future of Saarf and industry media research.
There has been a long and acrimonious saga to get to the point where we are now. Rather than replay, or once again, try to unravel the twists and turns of the story, I think it is time to stand back and look at exactly where the industry stands. While there has been much posturing and blustering, a great deal has actually been achieved by the “renegade” media owners.
The industry now has the benefit of a television viewership panel that has been painstakingly overhauled to ensure its representation of the South African population and its technical soundness. It is being run with close local oversight and the advice of an international auditor. This is a massive step forward and has been achieved by the tireless work of the National Association of Broadcaster’s (NAB) small research committee working directly with Nielsen. There is no doubt of the objective of making it a world class tool, and the new levels of engagement and scrutiny by the commissioners of the research should be reassuring to the media planning and buying industry.
NAB has also run a tender for new radio research and the results will be announced shortly. This tender was overseen by the pitch consultancy, Yardstick, to ensure the fairness and transparency of the process, clearly a prerequisite for the acceptance of the research by both broadcasters and the media planning and buying industry. Importantly too, there was expert technical representation on the judging panel.
The OOH industry has moved decisively, with Primedia Outdoor and Continental Outdoor Media having taken the lead in underwriting a new research model for their medium. This has been designed by a leading Spanish OOH research company in conjunction with Ask Afrika, and is currently in field.
The Print and Digital Media South Africa (PDMSA) has renewed its commitment to Saarf for 2015, and is reviewing its way forward. NAB has also assured that AMPS 2015 will continue as a bridging survey.
While the media owners have been diligently looking for new, world-class solutions, the media agencies were relatively muted in their involvement until the announcement of the AMF Charter about six weeks ago. With a number of the major proponents of the Charter, being members of the Saarf board, it is not surprising that the Charter was clear in demanding that the any establishment survey be managed and controlled by an industry body directly funded by advertisers and marketers.
In short, they are looking to replicate the principles on which Saarf was funded. Indeed, the presentation was imbued with a very real sense of sentimentality and pride in the institutions of Saarf and AMPS as being exemplary in terms of worldwide research. This was certainly once the case, but is anachronistic now. We do have to admit that the television audit turned up a lot of unpalatable facts that make world-class claims unsustainable.
Commendably the AMF heavily stressed that the intended motive behind the Charter was to move forward and to be wholly solutions orientated, and not to regress into the acrimonious squabbles of the past such as whose money has paid for Saarf, and AMPS, over the past few years.
Unfortunately the decision by the AMF to launch the Charter without inviting any of the media owners, who have been working to upgrade the research, is a statement that the agencies have little faith in the media owners to deliver objective currency. This view is somewhat myopic as the media owners clearly understand that they need the media agencies and the marketers to buy into the currency they offer. By collaborating on their research initiatives together, competitive media owners keep each other ‘honest’, working to eliminate bias. The media owners understand the need for a representative and unbiased establishment survey, and have shown that they are keen to underwrite world-class initiatives.
The AMF has committed itself to exploring funding options for an independent body. Given that research can always be improved upon, and that budget is always crucial to this, an understanding of the appetite for research funding amongst all stakeholders will no doubt be useful.
However, it seems to me that the most productive move, the AMF can make at the moment is to engage with the media owners, who have driven the research changes forward and examine how best to ensure unbiased, transparent research. This can be achieved by ensuring that media agencies and marketers participate in the joint industry committees going forward. Even more importantly, it can be achieved by ensuring that the necessary technical oversight and auditing is put in place. If media agencies and clients do not have the requisite expertise in media research, they should look towards participating in the funding of such expertise. This seems to me to be a more realistic solution that establishing an independent body.
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