Media Matter; Audiences Matter More

We are supposed to be good at words. We are after all in the communications business, although if you’ve had the misfortune to read a typical agency pitch document or sit through yet another conference paper on neuroscience and the media you may wonder.

In fact, we are cavalier in how we describe things. We mislead ourselves as well as the rest of the industry.

The media agency business some decades ago decided that they were really communication agencies. They were right too – no other group is better placed to be able to plan truly integrated campaigns, using a mix of experiential, PR, advertising, sponsorship and all the rest of it.

Around the same time, agencies decided to adopt an audience-centric approach to planning. In other words, build the plan around the audience and not around the channel. That was smart too – you still see trade press releases about this or that online specialist coming to the same conclusion years later.

And so to media research. A couple of weeks ago I outlined a blueprint for the future of what I deliberately described as audience measurement, featuring a much more prominent leadership role for advertisers.

At the heart of this is the need for cross-media measurement in some shape or form, funded by a levy on ad expenditure. A levy such as the one I propose would secure a long-term funding future for this sort of work.

What I had in mind was not so much ‘media research’ as ‘audience measurement and insight’.

Media research implies a focus on the medium. It means researching the audience to TV, or video, or online. It suggests currencies. It narrows the scope of what we should be about to the buying of space or time. It limits possibilities and means that anything that tiptoes outside the currency ropes is a project, a one-off, a nice-to-have. But not an integral part of the business.

Look at the work undertaken by the media marketing organisations, like Thinkbox or Newsworks. Great work, fascinating and very well packaged. But is it really at the heart of the industry? How many agencies truly use Planning for Profit, and the principles it espouses day-to day? It’s great, but not embedded.

Media research is a narrow term. Which is not to diminish its importance, rather to recognise that there are many issues that cannot be solved by the currencies; issues they were never designed to solve in the first place.

When the current media research frameworks were designed, we lived in a far simpler world. Ad campaigns were still largely single-medium. As mixed-media campaigns became more common-place we learned to finagle the data we had to allow for estimates to be made of things like total reach and frequency.

In the UK, BMRB as it then was invented the TGI, a single source measure still widely used today. Last year the TGI celebrated its 50th birthday.

More recently Lynne Robinson at the IPA came up with Touchpoints, another fine addition to the research stable but with equally obvious limitations.

All of this work, the currencies, the TGI, Touchpoints are built around exposure to the media. Yes, we can run analyses that allow us to build hypotheses around such issues as attention, but we’re torturing the data, pulling, pushing, stretching it into shapes for which it was never designed.

Meantime we are struggling to come up with a way that allows us to combine social media data with panels. We have so far failed to persuade the platforms to open up their datasets to verification. We cannot agree on basic standards and definitions.

These are all areas were advertiser pressure can help.

But we need to be far more ambitious than just agreeing what a viewer is.

We need to understand audiences. Why do they view or read what they do? What motivates them to spend more time on one thing than another? What are the key elements that drive loyalty and stickiness? What is the impact of context? How do consumers’ full panoply of media choices truly work for them in combination?

How are PR and experiential amplified by traditional advertising?

We know a lot about the media; and not much about audiences.

We need true Audience Measurement and Insight – an acronym that Cog Blog readers of a certain vintage will enjoy.

 

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