Development of the first industrywide "Criteria for Advertising and Marketing Research." It is the most widely distributed document in the ARF's 60-year history and it has helped raise research quality levels for the entire industry.
Establishment of "Fact," the first standards and procedures for field work verification and which became a routine practice of research companies.
First audits of syndicated print audience research studies.
Design of the first syndicated multi-magazine and multi-newspaper audience studies.
Split-market advertising research through the use of a controlled advertising research facility using cable television.
Use of electronic checkout counter scanning equipment for advertising research.
Development of the "ARF Model for Evaluating Media," which has gained broad industry recognition as providing the framework for making comparisons of the effectiveness of advertising through the use of various media.
Establishment of the Arrowhead program, small-scale research projects attacking the industry's most nagging problems.
The "ARF/American Business Press Study of the Relationship Between Business-to-Business Advertising and Sales," which isolated the effectiveness of business-to-business advertising on sales.
The "Copy Research Validity Project," which redefined the area of copy testing.
"ARF/Ad Council Study"-the first quantitative test market research to determine the impact of public service advertising.
ARF Gold Standard,a proven methodology for measuring magazine readership and evaluating existing methods.
All of these firsts and more have added up to distinguish ARF and its approach to industry leadership.
ARF is unusual in that it's a combination of a research institute that accomplishes research surveys and studies (with a paid research staff to do so) and an association of member companies that serves its members.
Where the ARF goes depends not so much on the challenges the industry will face but on our ability to maintain the core values invested in the organization over these last 60 years.
A number of research issues will confront ARF in the years ahead.
I. Intenet Measurement
The hottest topic today (and for the foreseeable future) is measurement of the new media-the Internet (and its killer application-The World Wide Web), interactive television, online services and new ad forms such as:
Infomercials on demand.
Hot links that use current commercials to direct viewers to stored information.
Set-top couponing, facilitated by in-home printers.
Advertising on online services.
Point-of-purchase advertising in electronic shopping centers.
The need for sensitive, reliable and valid research-particularly to measure the media audience for the World Wide Web applications-will grow in 1996, if for no other reason than 1995 witnessed so many startups to do just that.
ARF got all of the parties together last October in our first Interactive Media Research Summit, and we'll be doing so again in 1996 to take another sounding in this important area. Stay in touch with ARF for the latest offerings of: I/Pro (Internet Profiles Corp.); Audit Bureau of Circulations; Next Century Media; Delahaye Group; Nielsen Interactive Services; PC Meter-NPD Group; Web Track; Lillypad.
Research online may be seductive to some, and it is surely heating up.
Last March, researchers Richard Maisel, Katherine Robinson and Jan Werner reported the results of what has come to be known as the Prodigy Experiment in Journal of Advertising Research. The experiment tracked changes in public opinion over time using online surveys. Its purpose was "to benchmark the online data using corresponding results obtained through established and accepted methodologies."
The results suggested longitudinal online data may be reliable for tracking change in public opinion. In this case, the researchers knew the demographics of the Prodigy sample and selected a "representative" group closely paralleling the Gallup sample to e-mail the survey instrument.
The study's designers concluded, "Today, only a few service providers such as Prodigy have the ability to reach enough people to collect information this way. But as we move inexorably toward a `wired' nation, we can expect properly designed online surveys to become a major tool for opinion research."
What we are beginning to witness is only the leading edge of cyberspace online applications. In the long run, electronic Internet survey methods may become an important advertising and marketing research tool, but how important and how useful they are depends largely on how soundly we develop them and how aggressively we as an industry head off the abuse of good research practice, which is surely to come with such a potentially powerful new information-gathering tool.
Globalization of the research capabilities of U.S. companies is also a late-breaking trend. The news here is the rapid spread of the activity as substantial numbers of U.S. companies look abroad. Thus, international, multicultural research is spreading.
Information about consumer behavior, beliefs, preferences and demand drivers, and an understanding of existing and potential global brand equities across the full international society will be indispensable in matching products and services to consumer needs around the world.
With regard to in-media research, the growth of global brands and global advertising and the creation of worldwide research symposiums have made the U.S. media researcher much less parochial than 10 or even five years ago. For instance, the major current U.S. measurement methods for television (people meters) and magazines (the recent-reading questioning technique) were both first used in the U.K. before being adapted to U.S. needs.
It appears that harmonization of audience measurement will be the major issue in global media research for the next few years.
Working with Europe
An ARF harmonization committee is working with the European Broadcasters Union to prepare a guidelines document recommending common methods and definitions worldwide to the extent possible.
Methods and techniques necessary to measure different populations often vary significantly as they are adapted to local conditions.
III.Research for Media Planning
There is a renewed debate about the nature and value of "effective frequency" and its media-planning implications. This issue is also coupled with another-"single source" data-and its failure thus far to have much influence on the media marketplace or the research products it uses.
Recent books by Colin McDonald and John Philip Jones have reopened the important debate about how advertising funds are most effectively and efficiently invested and what are the most productive brand media planning strategies.
Mr. McDonald has clearly brought the research evidence regarding advertising exposures and effectiveness up to date and has incorporated the new additional appropriate and relevant information from the last 15 years since my original review in 1979. His conclusions represent sensible guideposts for media planners.
In the mid-1980s I had high hopes the blossoming of electronic single-source data laboratories and the combination of scanning and meter developments in general would produce effective media response and strategy measurements.
Unfortunately, such investment in media strategy testing was eclipsed by the rise of promotion investment driven by scanning data, so that we find ourselves in the mid-1990s with most of the promise of either test market or national single-source data unrealized for media strategy empirical learning.
Rather than the investment I envisioned, there has been disinvestment.
As a result, continuous and automatic advertising response to pressure and media tactics continues only to be a sought-after Holy Grail of media planning rather than a reality.
Reinvestment in media strategy research, however, will continue to be a challenge since the downsizings of recent years have taken their toll-particularly on advertising agencies' research capabilities.
IV.Ratings and Media Currency
Improved accuracy of TV ratings continues to be a major goal of researchers. Contam's "Smart" initiative for improving the active people meter in a number of ways is being closely watched in its Philadelphia test market. At the same time, of course, Nielsen Media Research is making numerous upgrades in its national people meter service. The most publicized of these is probably their work on response rates.
There are many areas of ratings research where improvement is desirable and could be addressed. These include the accuracy of measurement of hard-to-measure markets and media, especially children, some ethnic groups, local and national cable and satellite and local television in general.
An ARF committee is currently working on local television ratings issues, since they have most of the problems associated with national TV as well as some unique to local measurement. Progress in local ratings improvement has been slower than for national ratings.
Local TV stations appear not to be as interested in funding improvements as do the broadcast and cable networks.
The committee's first step was to hold an open day of discussion on local ratings issues last November.
Meanwhile, the personal, portable and passive meter, which is a possible solution to at least some of these measurement problems, appears no nearer fruition than it did three or four years ago.
In magazines, the abandonment of the through-the-book method in the U.S. has reemphasized the need for validity studies and the need to find ways to cope with measuring an ever-increasing number of titles.
ARF has developed a method for validating magazine audiences; it has been acclaimed as the gold standard of magazine measurement.
So far, however, the magazine industry has failed to avail itself of the method and to consider a validation study. The method is very rigorous and thus expensive.
The nature of magazine measurement surveys means an interviewer is always involved-with all the implications for bias that may involve. The development of a computerized self-interviewing method and its successful testing in 1995 appears to be a step towards greater accuracy.
Page Chips Soon?
Researchers are contemplating electronic measurement of print via page chips and watch-type receivers. Definite progress has been made in the last five years toward making this financially and technologically possible, although there is still a way to go.
U.S. radio research has had something of a quietus in the last few years. Satisfaction with the Radar national service is relatively high. On the local level, where the majority of radio media expenditures go, the tendency for many stations is to seek ever more precisely defined niche audiences. That in turn has led to an increasing need to break out very small age, sex and ethnic groups.
While sample sizes for most local markets have increased appreciably in the last year or two, sample distributions by age, sex and ethnic status are not always as exact as radio ratings users would like.
A recent survey of ARF's Radio Council found that council members most wanted to attack the issues of demonstrating radio's sales effectiveness and investigating and comparing the various radio reach and frequency models. The committee is now focusing in on how to attack these issues.
Newspapaers Bouncing Back
As newspapers rebound from a deep recession, interest in newspaper research grows. ARF's Newspaper Research Council is relaunching after a period of inactivity. In addition to national measurement by several services, local measurements of specific papers by market is done by a number of services.
As newspaper advertisers become more sophisticated, they are pressing to go beyond CPM to sales measures demonstrating newspapers' effectiveness.
Advertisers are also pressing for more research on coverage issues.
Yellow Pages publishers are trying to move away from the situation 10 years ago where most ad sales were localized and audience research was often controlled by the media.
In 1988, Association of National Advertisers and American Association of Advertising Agencies called for creditable third-party research. To its credit, Yellow Pages Publishers Association saw that, if Yellow Pages ad revenues were to grow, such research would be necessary.
YPPA has encouraged experiments to get sophisticated national advertisers to use Yellow Pages and, in turn, to provide necessary third-party research.
Next steps are for an ARF committee to explore validation of current Yellow Pages measurement techniques. As the guidelines state, there are several research areas or current practices needing further investigation.
Summing up, the situation would seem to require both new investment of time and resources and the leadership to come to grips with difficult questions about the measurement of every medium. ARF will continue to call on the active involvement of industry leaders to assure valid future measurements.