Cross-Media In The Cross Hairs: Experts Debate Role, Method Of 'Media Neutral' Research

In a free-wheeling debate that ranged from bottom line metrics like sales to far softer measures like "intimacy," a group of leading researchers, media executives and consumer marketers Thursday debated the role a burgeoning body of cross-media research should play in media planning. The debate, which was billed as a "showdown" by its host, the Advertising Research Foundation, but which panellists referred to as a "smackdown," did little to resolve what actually constitutes best practice in cross-media research, and extended the debate into areas that go well beyond the current purview of cross-media researchers: things like brand relevance, the role of emotions in advertising, marketing communications and even marketing mix modelling.

"I'd like to smack that down," challenged Val DiFebo, managing partner and general manager of Deutsch New York during a speech that preceded the debate, that focused on the current push toward "media neutrality," an effort by marketers to get their agency media planners to think neutrally about the role of various media in the mix. "I think it's about metrics that matter," she said, suggesting, for example, "We need to look at the soft measures like intimacy."

In sharp contrast to that thinking, Barbara Singer, director of strategic media information at Kraft Foods, cited the kind of marketing mix modelling research her company has pioneered that has gleaned insights on the explicit role media have in generating incremental sales results.

Much of the actual debate among the presenters - Lee Smith, president-COO, Insight Express; Jeffrey Graham, senior vice president-research development, Dynamic Logic; and Rex Briggs, managing partner, Marketing Evolution - focused on the methods - and the media - used by the researchers to build their research panels. Moderator, Tony Jarvis, a member of the ARF's executive committee, pointed out that building such panels exclusively among Internet users creates biases that can influence the validity of the results.

InsightExpress' Lee Smith said that can be controlled for by building samples that are "very large and media neutral." Dynamic Logic's Graham said his firm was beginning to incorporate more telephone research into its methodology. Marketing Evolution's Briggs said his firm's approach utilized a variety of panel recruitment methods depending on the campaign and the nature of the research program.

One thing the "showdown" did not do was show an industry standard method for conducting such research, something some observers believe will be critical to the integration of this type of research into the media planning process.

Recently, the ARF assumed responsibility for managing the next wave of the Interactive Advertising Bureau's XMOS cross media studies. Those studies are based on a methodology developed by Marketing Evolution, which the IAB plans to license to other researchers and which the ARF is developing a process for accrediting. During the showdown, ARF President CEO Bob Barocci revealed that the ARF is "80 percent" completed on a white paper that will serve as the basis for industry guidelines for cross-media research studies, which will be released next year.

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