The Pan-Latin American Survey could have repercussions for cross-border research in other regions as marketers and media monitor its success.
Costing in excess of $750,000 and conducted by Audits & Surveys, New York, the survey marks other firsts: The first regional survey to include TV and the first to have an ambitious goal of eventually offering comparable data for major regions around the world.
The hope is that the results will provide so much insight into Latin America that subscribers will want to receive it annually because of the rapidly changing developments in the region and to get comparable research from other parts of the world.
"It will be some time before the full impact of the study is known," said Paul Donato, Audits & Surveys senior VP-media & communications research. "Establishing standardized, harmonized planning tools in a marketplace with emerging media should probably facilitate advertising," he said. "[But] the implications go far beyond advertising sales."
The results are comparable to Mediamark Research Inc. and Simmons Market Research Bureau data in the U.S. and other surveys in individual countries, but there is no comparable information across wide regions in Asia and Europe.
Methodologies and the scope of surveys, for example, often vary. For readership, some countries look at recent reading habits while others look at frequency of reading, and the two methods yield different levels of readership that aren't comparable to each other.
The methodology for the Latin American study was created with the idea that it would have widespread acceptance.
"In all my years in the business I can't remember a time when so many diverse interests came together to support something like this," said Tim Brooks, senior VP-research, USA Networks, New York.
Demand for research across regions has intensified as marketers and media step up their efforts to reach consumers across national borders with single messages. But researchers face difficulties in coming up with an accurate reflection of the habits of all the publications' and networks' readers and viewers. And preferred methodologies vary from one region to another.
For example, the in-person interview method used by Audits & Surveys in Latin America won't work in Europe because of the high cost, said an executive at a major international publication that participates in some surveys.
That could be one reason Audits & Surveys failed to get a European survey off the ground a year ago. "We didn't see support in Europe," Mr. Donato said, but he feels if the Latin American results and methodology produce the kind of information marketers, media and agencies so desperately desire, there will be a more compelling reason for subscribers to support it in Europe and other regions.
Backed by a consortium of 16 North American cable TV networks, British Airways, Reader's Digest and 10 multinational ad agencies, the pan-Latin survey measures newspaper and magazine readership and TV viewership as well as product and brand usage in a wide variety of package goods, durables and financial services categories.
The survey sample consists of 5,800 respondents in 18 countries between the ages of 12 and 64, which can be projected to the population of all people in that age group, Audits & Surveys said. Fieldwork was conducted August through October.
Initiated by the cable industry, which is footing the biggest portion of the bill-each company was charged $60,000 prior to publication and $72,000 afterwards-the survey tackles a region ripe for the introduction of new goods and services. Of the 430 million people, 50% of them are under the age of 25 and avid for the comforts and luxuries of a quality lifestyle.
Fees for other subscribers range from $8,000 (rising to $9,600) for government agencies and $12,500 (increasing to $15,000) for ad agencies/advertisers to $40,000 (rising to $48,000) for magazines/other print media and consulting companies.
The U.S. cable industry headed south as it saw U.S. penetration flattening and discovered a paucity of research. Latin America was selected for a variety of reasons, including proximity to the U.S. and favorable linguistic, demographic and economic conditions.
"It's almost like we've landed on a new planet. We have to figure out what are the living things and which are the animals and which are plants," Mr. Brooks said.
"What we want to accomplish is to get some kind of benchmark. The marketplace is already big enough to have interest from multinational marketers. We have no handle on the marketplace. Who are these people? What are their economies? What kind of brands do they prefer?" he added.
"It's important to us as programmers and ad sellers to know what generically are the product preferences of consumers...so that we can attract pan-regional advertisers to our service," added Rafael Pastor, USA Networks' exec VP. "It's a diversified market, but if you view it as a common market, it's helpful to know what the commonalities are."
Laurel Wentz contributed to this story.