Category Archives: Media research

Confidence limits: polling organisations’ failures undermine market research credibility more widely


Things are hotting up in the opinion research environment. The climate of opinion about those who measure our opinions is undergoing significant change.

It’s an inconvenient truth, but the debacle of the UK’s May 2015 General Election casts a long shadow over research in related sectors, like marketing.

How could so many eminent polling organisations fail so spectacularly in their fundamental task?

Nobody likes to dampen the enthusiasm of the researcher, of course, and I may be a sample of one, but nowadays I can’t help wondering whether some or all of the forecasts she presents about brand awareness are worth the electronic paper they’re written on. And have attitudes to the client’s brand really changed that much, after that fairly low weight TV campaign?

Accusations of ‘herding’ have been roundly dismissed. 93.5% of polling organisations, when questioned, spontaneously replied that herding had not influenced the results of their polls. Which is quite comforting.

And it’s good to know that they’ll be changing their methods. Far too technical a topic for my little brain to understand, but it’s something to do with unrepresentative samples. So at least they’ve managed to identify the source of the problem. Good that the experts are now on the case.

Forecasting has never been an exact science, of course. Weatherman Michael Fish‘s “Don’t worry there isn’t …” response to predictions of the devastating 1987 hurricane still echoes in many memories.

But with the accumulated statistical knowledge and sophisticated computer systems that are now available, we can surely be forgiven for expecting a degree or two more accuracy in such an important sector?



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Most interesting piece of media research published in 2014? My vote goes to Ofcom’s Digital Day, says Richard Fox

Heaven forbid that I should be cast away alone on a desert island (I’m a Media Planner – Get Me Out of Here!?). But if I were to suffer that fate, I’d obviously take great comfort from the eight classic media plans I’d take with me, to remind me of my past triumphs as a planner/buyer back on the media mainland!

When it came to the selection of reading material, I think I’d find quite a lot to keep me occupied in just one piece of research published in the last twelve months.

In Q1 2014, Ofcom conducted an in-depth study of UK adults’ and children’s total media and communications activities, designed to provide an overview of the role of media and communications in people’s lives. The study was a follow-up to a study conducted in 2010, and was undertaken “to support Ofcom’s regulatory goal to research markets constantly and to remain at the forefront of technological understanding”.

digitaldaycoverThe results, published in the document Digital Day, provide a detailed diorama of people’s media and communications behaviour over a seven-day period, exploring when and how people use services and devices throughout the day, covering both personal and business use, in- and out-of-home use. (In the analysis ‘media consumption’ refers not only to viewing and listening, but to all text and voice communications, and the consumption of print media).

The report is well-organised, divided into sensible sections and with a summary of key findings. But though the overall findings are interesting and informative, the material most suitable for long afternoons under one’s favourite palm tree is found in the detail.

For instance, the study’s results on the subject of radio listening conflict with those of the industry’s RAJAR survey. This survey “… recorded lower reach and volumes than industry data for radio (comparing Digital Day results to the RAJAR database)”, says the report, adding that “A range of factors may have contributed to this difference … The broad nature of the Digital Day survey; it covers a wide range of media, rather than focusing on one specific medium … Activities that receive lower consumer attention, or are undertaken passively, such as radio, may be less likely to be recalled … These factors may explain differences between the two data sources”.

Interesting, that use of the word “may” …

The general consensus, I suggest, is that digital devices are primarily the province of the young. So it’s no surprise that all the 16-24s (100%) in the survey reported personally using a mobile phone, 88% reporting ownership of a smartphone – significantly above the UK average of 65%.

But digital covers a much wider spectrum of devices than phones, of course. And it’s the 35-44 age group which exhibits very high take-up of some of the more expensive devices; they have the highest take-up of tablets (55%), smart TVs (17%), DAB digital radios (38%) and computers (89%).

pipe-and-slippersAt this advanced stage in the development of digital/computer technology, it’s somewhat surprising that the most mature of the UK’s citizens still lag quite so far behind in digital ownership. According to the report, take-up of most digital devices drops significantly amongst the 65+ age group; only 19% report using a smartphone and only half have a computer or broadband in their household (52% and 49% respectively). The exception to this pattern is TV, for which penetration remains stable at approximately 97% across all age groups, says the study.

The average adult in the UK spends over half of their waking hours engaged in media or communications activities. Taking into account activities that are performed simultaneously, such as texting and watching TV, the media and communications activities undertaken by an individual each day actually equate to 11 hours 7 minutes. Some of these activities are conducted simultaneously, so in fact they are squeezed into 8 hours 41 minutes per day.

But 16-24 year olds appear to be living on a different media planet when it comes to the use of media and communications. They squeeze 14 hours 7 minutes of media activity each day into just 9 hours 8 minutes. They spend 4 hours 21 minutes communicating per day. This is taken up mostly by text-based communications (rather than voice), and accounts for almost a third of their overall time spent on media and communications each day. Compare that with the 2 hours 26 minutes spent communicating by all adults. As the report puts it: “… text communications dwarf other media and communications activities across the daytime for young people”.


77% of people use email – “is that all?”, was my first thought. But again there are significant variations by age, and email is still ahead of text messaging (71%).

The scope of the research is very broad. I can only touch on some points that I found particularly notable. For me, one quite surprising result is to do with press: according to Digital Day, live TV reaches 94% of people in a week, live radio 77%, newspapers (printed or digital, including apps.) 55% – but magazines (printed or digital, including apps.) only 28%. Now, in contrast, the National Readership Survey reports that 38% of GB adults 15+ consume general weekly magazines across print and online – but no doubt over a period much longer than a week (so, fair enough). But hang on, what about all the other types of magazines – women’s weeklies, general weeklies, women’s monthlies – and their online versions?

While those in the 65+ age group, spend nearly half of their media and communications time watching TV or films on a TV set, for 16-24 year olds the figure is less that a quarter.

When asked to consider the range of activities they engage with each week, adults are most likely to say that they would miss live television; a fifth (21%) choose this. When recorded TV is included, this increases to 29% of all adults. Reading books and phone calls were the second and third most-missed activities (with 14% and 12% respectively choosing these).

As for myself, of course, relaxing in my hammock between a couple of palm trees, I’m sure the thing I would miss most of all would be the opportunity to work on a new media planning project …

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