Media Agencies’ Take on Research

Two of the largest global agencies recently announced major research initiatives into how consumer behaviour is influenced by communication channels. Interestingly, neither is a research agency. MEC launched their Momentum programme at the Cannes ad festival, whilst OMD took to the pages of ‘Campaign’ to discuss their large-scale study predicting the future shape of British consumer society called (rather portentously) ‘Future of Britain’.

The MEC Momentum project is interesting in the link through to actionable planning, in that it claims to explore the purchase journey undertaken by consumers, and the way in which communication forms can influence that journey along its path.

The MEC work is ambitious – to date the agency claims to have interviewed over 100,000 people, across 17 categories in 12 countries (these figures may well be out-of-date as the programme builds continuously across the agency’s network), using a mix of quantitative and qualitative techniques. The agency says that over US$1.8 million has been spent so far on the initiative and that it is recouping the investment via paid-for projects from clients.

Time will tell if MEC’s Momentum really changes the way the agency plans or whether this is yet another publicity-generating stunt masquerading as research. Mind you, there are many cheaper ways of generating publicity, so it seems reasonable to take MEC at their word when they claim Momentum is gaining traction with relevant clients and is already being extensively used by the network’s planners.

It’s interesting that it’s the media agencies that are doing work into how communication works on consumer behaviour. Good for them, but, one has to wonder, what of the research agencies?

MEC used a combination of its sibling GMI, a Kantar (WPP) company for the execution of the quantitative work, and a mix of its (MEC’s) own in-house researchers and local suppliers for the qualitative elements. So a research agency was involved in the doing bit. All of the thinking bits (like the questionnaire design, and the interpretation) were done by MEC.

Research agencies often boast of their abilities to think creatively; to take initiatives; to work proactively on solving clients’ problems. Providing a low-cost, commoditised service is not where they wish to be.

The MEC initiative does not bode well for the market research world. If media agencies, with their need to navigate a complex communication world see research suppliers as, well, low-cost suppliers, and if advertisers continue to use technology and systems to undertake their own research, and mine their own data (again, often via their media agency) then the business base served by the research agencies will only continue to shrink.

Research agencies might want to consider some research into how they might best meet their customers’ future needs. I doubt they will: after all it seems it is the cobbler’s children who are always the worst shod.

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