It's common knowledge among marketing and media researchers: Ask the ARF.
Want to test an ad, survey readers, train your staff, try out a new research service, hear peers' opinions, market abroad?
"The most important thing Advertising Research Foundation has done is to provide a meeting ground for the industry, a clearinghouse for ideas," says Alice K. Sylvester, director of brand economics, Leo Burnett Co., Chicago. "ARF is about the only place where research people can gather, the only trade association for people in marketing research."
She adds, "It's also a means for continuing education."
That's exactly what ARF intends, according to President Michael J. Naples, who says: "ARF is the leadership research organization. It is a research institution and trade association in one. We're making the point at our 60th anniversary annual Conference & Research Expo '96, `Leadership in marketing is leadership in research.'*"
"The most important thing ARF does," says Tod Johnson, president of research company NPD Group, "is bring together all four main components of the marketing research industry-advertisers, ad agencies, media and research.
"As a member of the marketing research industry," Mr. Johnson says in explaining further the clearinghouse role of ARF, "I look to ARF as the primary venue to introduce new research products and services. It presents the key topics to our industry and shows the way to finding solutions."
BOOST TO BRAND EQUITY
Speaking as an advertiser, John Tarsa, director of marketing information services for Ocean Spray Cranberries, says, "If there were no ARF, we could not have improved our marketing program with the perspective on brand equity that our work with the foundation gave us.
"We'd been working earlier on brand-equity developments in our Ocean Spray marketing program. Then our exposure to the ideas and discussions and papers available at ARF professional sessions helped give our thinking a framework."
According to Barbara S. Feigin, Grey Advertising's exec VP-director of strategic services, "The information from ARF studies and sessions on advertising effectiveness has been useful for my constituency and has helped our thinking about how advertising works."
"If ARF had not existed," contends Burnett's Ms. Sylvester, "research would have been slower in scanner data, modeling, other ways of handling new data. Research issues would have been resolved on an individual company basis rather than industrywide. ARF has always formed the agenda on critically reviewing audience measurement of TV, on readership studies."
ARF's role in pursuing precision and validity in measurement functions for advertising, media and research gets praise from Robert J. Herbold, exec VP-chief operating officer of Microsoft Corp. "Commercial success depends on satisfying consumer/user needs," he says. "Well-crafted research is the basis for critical measurement tools to gauge your success. ARF has played a very important role in protecting the integrity of those tools over the years."
"ARF oversight of research assures the industry of quality, as in the areas of work to predict performance, understand performance in the marketplace," says Larry Mock, manager-market research worldwide, Procter & Gamble Co. "These services are a benefit to smaller companies," he says, "but they benefit a big firm like Procter & Gamble, too. ARF can promote studies on a large scale and at a high level of quality by its ability to consolidate resources across several trades and industries."
That strength should serve ARF well in the area of new media, believes Mr. Mock, whose company has led the way among marketers in calling for techniques to measure viewing of interactive advertising.
NEW MEDIA EXPECTATIONS
"ARF is faced with the great complexity of the rapidly changing marketplace exemplified by the new media-the question of how to measure consumer activity and market activity," Mr. Mock says.
"There must be a collaborative role to make the necessary leaps in areas such as interactive communications and integrated marketing."
Mr. Tarsa believes international research is another new area that ARF should explore.
"A lot of U.S. companies involved in making products outside this country need to know how to market them in other cultures. Lack of this skill is straining their staffs."
Education has been an important benefit of ARF membership, and Ms. Sylvester thinks it's more important now than ever.
"Media research now suffers from a lack of middle-level people because of downsizing layoffs. Training and education tend to be limited to the junior and senior levels. Everybody is doing so many jobs because of staff reductions that they're too busy to train at the middle level."
Yet, Ms. Sylvester believes, ARF has a solution. "Now ARF offers its Smart Seminars, which are workshops that run a half day and offer training in various research areas such as scanner data, media research, copy testing. These Smart Seminars are very important in our industry today to fill the education and training gap."
Does the foundation ever shy from involvement in sticky areas? Sometimes its strategy is to be supportive rather than hands-on, says Mr. Johnson of NPD Group.
PITCH FOR LOBBYING
"One area that I have wanted ARF active in is legislation that affects the ability of research organizations to collect consumer information," Mr. Johnson explains.
"ARF chose not to get involved in this area. Consequently, the research survey industry formed the Council of Marketing & Opinion Research, which involves lobbying legislators, conducting research and running a test facility.
"ARF's tack was to help found CMOR, along with the American Marketing Association, Marketing Research Association and Council of American Survey Research Organizations. The goal is to produce legislation that both protects consumers from abuse and protects access to the consumer."
As described by some members, the foundation takes on a heroic persona. The backbone core strength of that image has to be members' sense that ARF is untainted by bias, and ready to help all. Members feel strongly about it.
"ARF is a beacon for us," says Ms. Feigin. "There are lots of different constituencies in advertising and media and agency work and research. ARF brought a focal point to the industry."
"ARF has an objective voice, and it has the respect of the industry," Mr. Johnson adds. The executive credits the foundation as offering a kind of trade-show stage to its members for displaying their wares at the annual conference, meetings and workshops.
WORLD WITHOUT ARF?
With so many academic and commercial organizations in the field, could the industry get along without ARF?
"No, of course not!" answers Ms. Feigin. "ARF is dispassionate!" Or as Mr. Johnson expresses it, "ARF's main claim to fame is it is much more impartial than a private organization could be."
Serving so many bosses, ARF is bound to be highly visible.
"Everything ARF does is done in public," explains Mr Naples. "The buyer and seller of research can always trust the numbers."
ARF members feel that it's working.
"The message we're getting," reports Mr. Naples, "is `Keep doing what you're doing."'