Can you handle the truth?

Can you handle the truth?

Julie MacManus of MediaTel reports from the MRG conference in Monte Carlo.

In search of the truth, Thursday morning’s MRG conference opened with a healthy bout of myth busting: That people want relationships with brands; that Facebook fans are the most valuable customers; that mum remains the gatekeeper of all household spending decisions; that Londoners are the same as the people who work in central London and that media researchers are in any way representative of real people!

Much of the morning was spent arguing that the reach and impact of social media is being overhyped by an industry whose view is hampered through vested interests, which is in thrall to shiny new stuff and is scared of appearing behind the times.

Martin Weigel, from Wieden + Kennedy in Amsterdam kicked off by challenging the assumption that people actually care about brands. Evidence suggests they don’t and at best they are promiscuous (e.g. 72% of Pepsi drinkers also drink Coke).

Using Fructis and Pantene as examples, Weigel argued why should anyone care about the fans when the vast majority of revenue for these brands comes from people who only purchase them once a year? What you really need is massive reach and TV is still the best place to deliver that.

To cut through the apathy that people feel towards brands, Weigel argues that advertising needs to be amazing and tell the stories that are relevant to people. Consumers really don’t want to spend their down-time playing Domestos bug killing games but P&G’s moving ‘Proud Sponsors of Mom’s everywhere’ TV campaign around the Olympics worked because it really engaged with viewers on an emotional level.

Later in the morning, Steve Thomson from Keller Fay further put the boot into social media by outlining how it is not the final word (or anything like it) even in his world of understanding word of mouth.

Tempting as it is to use social media monitoring to measure social dynamics, he showed how using it in isolation is distorting the full picture. Social Media has made word of mouth become sexy and brands want to be in on the conversation but they’re not sure how to do it – how many of us are confronted with irrelevant ads on our Facebook feeds? Citing one top 20 media agency’s web page which claimed that social media monitoring is the next best thing to expensive and time consuming research, Thomson illustrated how much dodgy research and half-truths abound on social dynamics when 90% of brand conversations are conducted offline.

While online conversations may reach more people, offline ones are less guarded, more honest and less polarised and therefore much more trusted. While buzz metrics are hugely attractive because of the speed in which they can deliver insights, Thomson argued we should take care to understand their limitations.

Belinda Beeftink from the IPA used TouchPoints research to illustrate how 66% of the population are not social networking – that means three million plus in London alone. Even 15-24 year olds spend more time listening to the radio and watching TV than they do social networking and although dual screening is a hot topic right now, just 5.4% of 15-24 year olds time is spent doing this at peak.

Using a sample of media researchers to complete diary research, Beeftink warned the conference against skewing their assumptions based on what they and their circle do – they spend over twice as much time on the internet as the general population and over four times the amount of time on social networks. Beeftink urged the MRG conference to have a more consumer centric and holistic view in order to understand better what drives channel choice and how to engage with people.

Anthony Waite also warned the conference against making assumptions about consumers using CBS Outdoor’s London Worker planning tool to paint a picture of central London workers. The tool can be used to highlight all sorts of behavioural differences between those who work in central London, wherever they might reside, and those that don’t e.g. this breed earns more, travels more, invests more, texts more and drinks more!

In an attempt to take a more holistic approach and better understand the data and put it into context, Pauline Robson shared findings from MediaCom’s Real World Britain research which set about uncovering what goes on in respondents daily lives using 36 bloggers.

The research found that the dynamics of home life are in flux: more of the middle aged now live alone while younger people increasingly stay at home; although still in the minority, men are increasingly responsible for child care and professional couples tend to be more equal in their division of household labour and decision making. Robson found the most surprising aspect of the research was around m-commerce: 42% of consumers have used their mobile at some point in the purchase journey with 14% buying something spontaneously while drunk!

Finally to round up the morning, the panel debate went some way to rehabilitate the role of social media as a hugely interesting and significant data source.

Kristin Bayliss (Universal McCann), Jason Brownlee (Dollywagon), Sarah Gale (Ipsos MediaCT) and Bill Doris (MPG Media Contacts), moderated by Neil Mortensen, urged the panel not to dismiss social media but integrate it into the bigger picture and understand the uses and differences between the various platforms. After all it has been hugely challenging for researchers to have access to such spontaneous and sincere commentary in the past so it’s supremely valuable data when used with caution.

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