Research Is The Industry's One-Armed Paper-Hanger

We talk about how change is impacting the core mechanics of how we do our jobs, upending our long-cherished metrics and data sets and sending even the most complacent executive into shudders.  But in truth, there are some in our industry who believe we are in a comparative lull.

At the recent Advertising Research Foundation event Re:Think, Keith Weed, Unilever's chief marketing and communications officer, quoted Landmark Ventures’ Shelly Palmer, who  said: “Change will never be as slow as it is today.” That might be true, but still, to many of us, the rate of change today is unprecedented, and at once uncomfortable, vexing, fascinating and exhilarating.

A big part of this change is due to advancements in, and the accessibility of, Big Data, which is the bailiwick of research and analytics departments. But the data is coming fast, furious and silo’d. So how does research keep up? I asked a range of researchers at Re:Think about their priorities in the next six months. Here’s what they said (with videos of more complete quotes here):




Many across the media spectrum -- from suppliers to agencies to organizations to networks -- cited cross-platform measurement as a top priority. CIMM CEO Jane Clarke said, “What CIMM is going to focus on is what we have been focusing on over the past few years: finalizing our cross-platform measurement service … measuring unduplicated reach across television, radio, smartphones, tablets and computers across three media -- video, audio and text.”

Tom Xenos, vice president of research at MediaVest, said, “One of the biggest things coming up is to better understand cross-media measurement: how to get the data, how to understand duplication, how to know what is driving what medium to what platform, and having it all come together.” Tom Ziangus, senior vice president of research for AMC Networks said his company is  committed to “coordinating our Big Data efforts to report and understand video cross-platform viewing behaviors.”


But the media world is not solely focused on cross-platform. For Leslie Wood, CRO of Nielsen Catalina Solutions, the biggest thing is “targeting. Everything we learned about targeting came from mass media where, if you got it wrong, you still reached a lot of people. But now that we can precision-target, it really matters. What can we look at in our data that gives you the insights you need to make good decisions?”


According to Josh Chasin, CRO of comScore, “We are working on holistic measurement solutions that bring TV and digital measurement together and …  will be around the nexus of mobile measurement.” Graeme Hutton, senior vice president/group partner, research, at Universal McCann, is focused on mobile and its intrinsic synergies with television.

He said, “If I had to do one thing over the next six months it would be to look at the interaction between television and mobile. Mobile and TV are known to work strongly together. But I want to know why. Understanding the ‘why’ is very important. The principal way to do that is through neuroscience.”

Data Integration Platforms

Bruce Goerlich, CRO of Rentrak, is concentrating on data integration. He said, “We are just about to release the Rentrak Analytic Platform, which will have respondent-level data in it. There will be many types of analyses that you can do on this huge data set, providing stability, granularity and insights.”


For Mike Bloxham, senior vice president, Magid, “OTT and SVOD have the capacity to be very disruptive and have ramifications across the business.  Advertisers are starting to think about how that will impact the way in which they use TV to reach a mass audience.” 

Can we as a group of researchers manage to keep pace? I'm hopeful the answer is yes. There are enough of us taking on a range of different challenges to assure that there will be some progress.

8 comments about "Research Is The Industry's One-Armed Paper-Hanger".
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  1. Ed Papazian from Media Dynamics Inc, March 23, 2015 at 4:06 p.m.

    Charlene, reading your report I must say that one of the failings of many researchers as well as their clients---advertiser marketing directors, agency media planners and buyers, media sellers, etc. is that very few of them really bother to study the data they already have in hand. Rather, there is an overriding tendency to pontificate about the need for more and better data and the advocacy of ever more refined electronic measurements as if these were going to lead us to a better world. As it happens, most of the "new" findings we work so hard to amass are mere replicates of old research----with slight variations--- or are entirely obvious ----if we simply gave the matter in question a little thought. As always, there is lots of talk about "granular" data fine tuning our perspectives when, in reality, we haven't even come to grips with much larger issues ----like who to target and how often to reach them, how to approach the TV upfront more realistically, how to make intermedia comparisons, how to integrate media planning/buying into the entire marketing process, etc., etc. Research should be a tool, not the solution. It can't perform miracles----only we can.

  2. Charlene Weisler from Writer, Media Consultant:, March 23, 2015 at 4:20 p.m.

    Hi Ed,
    Good point. And too, trying to figure out which data actually drives a call-to-action. Even if we are already sitting on some or all of this great data, it is still very silo'd. We don't know if a certain combination will help to predict performance better than an individual dataset.

  3. Doug Garnett from Protonik, LLC, March 23, 2015 at 4:49 p.m.

    I think there are some pretty severe problems emerging with Big Data. My friend Shahin Khan observed recently that "The ratio of relevant data to irrelevant data will asymptotically approach zero." As Ed notes, I agree that most/many organizations struggle to get the value that exists within the research they already have. Too often the politics of research drive the jump to Big Data. Not because we know it offers unusually powerful meaning. Rather it's far easier (and creates promotion far faster) to do the busy-work pursuing complicated Big Data schemes than it is to do the strategic work listening to the tough lessons buried in the data and research we already have.

  4. John Grono from GAP Research, March 23, 2015 at 7:37 p.m.

    Dear Doug & Shahin. May I please have permission to export that FABULOUS quote to Australia? Mind you I think it only several decimal points off zero already. Dear old William of Ockham nailed it back in the 1300s.

  5. Doug Garnett from Protonik, LLC, March 24, 2015 at 1:42 p.m.

    Absolutely. You can find it directly on his Twitter feed at @ShahinKhan. I added a few more of his cogent observations in a blog post recently.

  6. Nicholas Schiavone from Nicholas P. Schiavone, LLC, March 25, 2015 at 4:50 p.m.

    Dear Charlene ... and all others concerned,

    You do yeoman's work (i.e., simple, honest and hard) when it comes to making sense of what often seems so senseless in the realm of marketing, advertising and media research.

    The reason for the senselessness I suspect is, in large part, ignorance and irresponsibility.

    It is, for example, stunning that no one offered "IMPROVE RESEARCH QUALITY" as a Priority for the next six months.
    Or how about "improve media audience measurement" or "better formulate research priorities"?

    We see the problem vividly in the pages of MediaPost where there appears to be but one outstanding commentator, Ed Papazian.

    Mr. Papazian's Comment here on March 23 should be framed, hung and read daily as business and research penance for the balance of Lent and in preparation for Passover.

    Now, here is my 2 cents: "Time is a condition of possibility." (You can and should quote me!) As Calvin Coolidge elaborated: "We cannot do everything at once, but we can do something at once." First, we need to think. Then, we need to reflect. And finally, we need to seek enough light for the next smart step.

    Remember, once the snow clears and we start planting in the NorthEast, we won't be seeing flowers, fruits and vegetables for some time. Once again, time is a condition of possibility.

    And if time is abused and misused then you have the situation that the Industry faces with Nielsen's efforts to seemingly compensate for better measurement quality with statistical sleight of hand by sacrificing validity for the sake of reliability.

    Only the panic-stricken would chose such a solution.

    In sum, we've lost our sense of time and timing. The right solution at the wrong time is illusion. The wrong solution at the right time is self-destruction.

    I regret not seeing you, Charlene, at the ARF. My priorities for the next six months are different. Perhaps the ARF could devote a future conference to the subjects of Research Quality and Decision Planning & Time. Inspired by Lincoln Steffens, I am compelled to say: “I have seen the future and it works.” (But not in the future.)

    Thanks again. You are certainly one of those special people, like Ed Papzian, who thinks we can better than wallpaper over the bad plaster that is Research 2015.

    Nicholas P. Schiavone
    Nicholas P. Schiavone, LLC


  7. Charlene Weisler from Writer, Media Consultant:, March 26, 2015 at 11:21 a.m.

    Hi Nick,
    Thank you for your comment and you are right - research quality is paramount. On the video posted on my blog (, Dr Tom Evans said just that - he would concentrate on quality in research. I would love to interview you on this subject, Nick.

  8. Nicholas Schiavone from Nicholas P. Schiavone, LLC, March 26, 2015 at 3:54 p.m.

    Dear Charlene,

    You are most welcome. The work that you do in this domain is terrific. I appreciate the full perspective on this ARF-related topic.

    Tom Evans and I were colleagues at NBC Radio and his concern for quality has always been a most admirable trait that appears to have marked all his academic and professional work over time.

    I am flattered and embarrassed by your invitation to be interviewed on the subject of RESEARCH QUALITY. I feel about Quality much as I do about Love: "Love Without Action, Isn't!" (i.e., Love is something you do, not something you feel.) -

    Same goes in the business. Easy to plan and plan…and talk and talk and make one hasty move after another, just for the sake of appearances, really. Much harder to take action. (i.e., Without the right actions, the right strategy is irrelevant.) -

    In sum, "Quality Without Action, Isn't!"

    In all humility, I shall carefully consider your invitation, Charlene, and accept if I believe I can make a worthwhile contribution to your noble educational cause. It is unique & outstanding. Well done!

    In the meantime, onwards and upwards.

    Nicholas P. Schiavone
    Nicholas P. Schiavone, LLC

    Note: Credit due to my brilliant, inspirational & artistic friend, Hugh MacLeod, and his associates at

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