Connecting Markets And Business During Pandemic: 'A Haircut For Personal Data?'

Finn Raben, director general, ESOMAR (European Society for Opinion and Marketing Research) moderated its first TV “at home” seminar April 30, covering the status of marketing and media research in a post-COVID-19 world from a wide range of perspectives.

ESOMAR is the global voice of the data, research and insights community, and the seminar included dealing with disruption, research approaches in times of crisis, regional FMCG consumption patterns, data privacy matters, online qualitative survey techniques, WFH (working from home), and the value of qualitative insights to quantitative surveys in the new normal.

Three areas provided some of the most interesting insights from the highly experienced contributors to more than 800 "attendees." The entire three hour-plus "show" will be available at    



After Finn underscored the imperative to keep researching to provide timely, meaningful guidance to decision makers in this new environment, the president of ESOMAR -- Joaquim Bretcha, Netquest, Spain -- focused on the importance for ESOMAR to help drive experimentation and ethics across the research community.  

With that as the framework, a session on “Dealing with Disruption” offered an array of observations:

Michelle Gansle, global lead insights transformation, Mars Wrigley, recommended three keys:
      1. “New reliance on
other ways to communicate with consumers” 
      2. “Don’t be tone deaf while maintaining brand image and relevance”
      3. “Down the road, understanding the long-term implications will increase in importance”  

Kristen Griffith, associate director Global Studio, Clorox, underscored that “re-investing requires careful review and subsequent pivoting notably in assessing projects in the works.”

She also shared that existing projects should be “reassessed, on a case-by-case basis, for the impact and sensitivity of research to the consumer” and concluded that “research suppliers will need to increase flexibility and ability to pivot.”  

Jon Puleston, VP Innovation, Kantar, who was clearly enjoying the freedoms of working from home, made five key observations:

  1. “ad awareness and tracking studies are of reduced importance.”  

  2. “Asia has generally moved to online studies for legacy research.”  

  3. There are “huge obstacles and care needed when moving from offline to online research.”  

  4. There is a "massive surge in the use/response to surveys via mobile phones.”  

  5. "The industry must deal with the imperative of using online knowing it is non-representative, although it can be remarkably close, e.g., China.”  

Based on continuous tracking data analysis, Richard Herbert, global business insight director, Europanel, UK, provided insights on “Regional FMCG Purchase Patterns” around the world.

Categories have changed, and some have changed significantly. Herbert suggested that those categories that have dramatically increased have been partially driven by online purchases, but are unlikely to continue at COVID levels when the new normal returns.

Bigger baskets more often are also a contributing factor, he noted.

In postulating that trends in China offer “the light at the end of the tunnel” for FMCG brands, he underscored the critical importance of not losing brand share during this time, as any share loss will probably be exacerbated when life returns to any kind of normal.

This echoed remarks at a recent ARF Town Hall that emphasized the fundamental importance of maintaining meaningful levels of advertising during the COVID pandemic to maintain or possibly increase share.  

“Data Privacy Matters” 

While privacy threats are not new and the EU’s GDPR established the right to be forgotten, Mike Cooke, ESOMAR Legal Affairs Committee, opined that “privacy policies will increasingly affect all aspects of life across every country but have come under re-evaluation in view of the health care imperative.”  

After identifying a “hodgepodge” of Privacy Laws in the USA that make data collection very tricky, Veronica Torres, chief privacy officer, comScore, referenced a Pew Research Center study from 2019 that indicated 81% of Americans see more risks than benefits from personal data collection, and that the majority also believe there should be more Government regulation regarding data protection with a small difference between Republicans (~7 out of 10)and Democrats (~8 out of 10).  Veronica emphasized: “Privacy by Design, which ensures no harm to anyone in any research program, needed to be the re-imagined future.”  

Reg Baker, ESOMAR, North America Regional Ambassador, worried the continuing explosion of tracking, surveillance and profile data is a primary concern of consumers with the tech giants, while its use might be “permissible” with government health organizations.

He noted however, that when major tech companies break privacy laws, even consistently, it rarely changes consumer behavior in using the tools from these companies.  As the use of such data moves from basic consumer targeting to making critical decisions about an individual consumer, “we could be facing massive issues on use of data, notably in AI.”  

John Crockett, VP, Environics Research, Canada, reminded participants that the Canadian PIPEDA “Personal Information Protection & Electronic Documents Act” paralleled much of the EU’s GDPR, and consequently Canadian companies are well prepared to fulfill privacy requirements.

In the best line of the day, he somewhat facetiously suggested that a "quid pro quo" for a customer giving permission to collect certain personal information might be "a haircut" -- especially if you do not live in Georgia.

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