Media Redefined: Fake news and market research
by Martin MacGregor (@MartMacG) There is so much noise in the South African marketing, advertising and media industries at the moment around the future of research models that it is time for some perspective.
What has become clear is that the research that we relied on for all those years to make key marketing and media decisions was, at best, very top-level and, at worst, just plain wrong. The low weighting efficiencies (how much the sample mirrored the SA population) meant that the data ended up being very thinly based and filled with a huge amount of assumption.
This is now being corrected by the new studies the Broadcast Research Council (BRC) are putting out, as well as hopefully a new AMPS, developed by the Marketing Research Council (MRC), the replacement for SAARF.
The debate around the importance of independent research, and whether both of these are needed, has been well-documented, and the outcomes are presently playing themselves out.
More interestingly, the believability of research has now been seriously questioned. This has been spurred on by the diminishing confidence in all research after all the above came to light, as well as the surfacing of the era of fake news, where suddenly nothing seems to be as it looks. Just like there is a sudden realisation that there is a big difference between proper news, written by a professional journalist and fact- and source-checked and double-checked, and fake news, which could have been written by anyone, so it is with research and the “facts” that we need to make key decisions on.
In a potential world of no confidence in research, how can marketing decisions be made?
The answer is to approach the landscape like a journalist and start with the facts. And when it comes to facts, there are two irrefutable data points that could, if analysed correctly, lead to better quality decisions being made than ever before.
1. Actual media consumption
Not promised consumption, but what are consumers actually doing?
I will use a simple old-school media example of magazines and newspapers. Researched readership has always seemed to throw up some incredulous numbers. However, put together a simple trend line on circulations over the last 10 years across all print titles and that tells enough of a story.
The Sunday Times circulation has dropped from 500 000 to 300 000. That’s a 40% loss of readers, whichever way you look at it. But this still doesn’t answer who these Sunday Times readers are? Read the publication regularly and you will have a very rich idea of who they are targeting.
I have always found it strange how many media planners I know consume no media at all and rely totally on the research. Read, watch or listen to the content and it will tell you a lot more about psychographics than any research will.
Each medium has “no argument” data points that tell a whole lot of the story — whether it’s Ster-Kinekor ticket sales or MultiChoice subscription numbers, the real stories are there. Funnily enough, often these media owners don’t want to impart this knowledge. Like a good journalist, you just need to dig deeper — financial results are a good place to start.
Digital media lives off these factual data points almost to the point of too much data, and the real intent is sometimes lost. But the facts are the facts.
2. Actual sales
Yes, if we believe that advertising works, then the sales data that clients sit on holds a treasure trove of information about their consumers and the media that they consumed that led to their response.
Again, there is reticence to share this, which I always find strange. Why rely on outside research, where there is a high risk of misrepresentation, when there is so much fact-based data sitting at your fingertips?
So, as we enter the post-truth world, both in terms of news and research, let’s find the inner journalist in all of us and scour the existing landscape for those real facts. It may be harder work but it may just lead to more of the right marketing decisions being made.
Martin MacGregor (@MartMacG) is managing director of Connect, an M&C Saatchi Company, with offices in Johannesburg and Cape Town. Martin has spent 18 years in the industry, and has previously worked at Ogilvy and was MD of MEC Nota Bene in Cape Town. He contributes the monthly “Media Redefined” column, in which he challenges norms in the media space, to MarkLives.com.