The search for credible research



By Louai Al Asfahani

Managing Partner – Paragon Marketing Communications.

The first step towards solving a problem is admitting that a problem exists.

We in the advertising industry have more than our share of problems, but they are not without solutions.

During an industry event not so long ago in Dubai a guest speaker, Antoine Chouairi, confirmed suspicions about the accuracy of GCC research industry. In sharing his own media research data with the audience and comparing it to data sold by media monitoring gurus Parc and Ipsos-Stat it came as no surprise that none of the figures tallied. But what did surprise was that finally someone had broken the code of silence and publicly spoken about a subject most industry professionals consider taboo.

The good news is that as a step towards improving media monitoring research, he not only highlighted an industry problem but also put his money where his mouth is and offered to partly fund independent media research. The bad news is that to date the status-quo still exists.

Even though some skeptics may have doubts about Chouairi’s personal motives in critiquing the research industry, no one can deny that we will all benefit from higher levels of professionalism, accuracy and transparency. After all, ‘a man’s decisions are only as accurate as his information’.

Media research is constantly used by agencies, clients and media independents alike for planning purposes. Budgets are allocated and major decisions are impacted and supported by such data – which is not free of charge. Not having accurate data only leads to a situation where the blind lead the blind.

To further highlight the magnitude of the problem pointed out by Mr. Antoine I have taken the liberty to share with you recent cases from the Kuwait media scene to exemplify his point; please read through and draw your own conclusions.

Kuwait: troubled times

The answer to a seemingly simple question such as ‘who is Kuwait’s top ranking English daily newspaper?’ has proven to be quite vexing (in a market that has only three English papers). One of the two leading research companies ranked Kuwait Times as top, while the other said it was Arab Times. But in reality which is it? Another simple question – ‘who is Kuwait’s top ranking Arabic daily newspaper?’ – again failed to provide a simple answer. Both Al Watan and Al Rai were ranked as top by the different research companies. Once again we are left to wonder.

The plot thickens as agencies and media independents were invited to a gala event hosted by the ‘top ranking’ Arabic daily, in which AC Nelson shared its media research results that backed up the Arabic daily’s claim to fame. What resulted was the media scene became cluttered by both rivals’ claims of leadership. Let’s face it; being number one has its merits from a financial point of view – it attracts bigger advertising budgets – and from an ego point of view, as it endorses bragging rights. But from a joint industry professionals point of view, it is simply a case of NOT getting what we paid for – the facts.

Progress Monitoring

If we can somehow justify discrepancies in qualitative research results, how can we justify the huge differences in terms of quantitative research results for a straight forward task, such as media monitoring. The media rate cards are the same, the monitoring method is the same; the media vehicles monitored are also the same. Why then the huge discrepancies in the results? To add insult to injury it sometimes takes 15 days into the month to receive the data for the elapsed month – could we have some service please.

NB. This article was first published on December 10, 2007.

Related posts on bloganubis: Anubis in ArabAd

5 thoughts on “The search for credible research”

  1. In my experience, market research is generally very flawed. Unlike academic research, market research is not peer-reviewed and is meant only to show patterns, even if these patterns don’t really exist.

    First, we have to take into consideration where the sample comes from. If you are getting a sample from a local shopping area or mall then the only people that will be participants in the research are those that have the time to spare. These people are obviously at the mall – therefore there are TONS of confounding variables that can influence the results, such as the idea they might be the type of people that are more likely to buy at point-of-purchase.

    In most market research you cannot control your sample as you would in an academic environment. There is no randomization, just people who are wanting to do it for whatever reward they are offered. Once again this poses another confounding variable – the psychographics and behavioristics of these people may lean toward these people being the types that search out coupons and look for good deals, etc. All simply because of the how they were approached.

    When I was in undergrad I worked as a market research recruiter. In other words, it was my job to find the people to do the surveys. I can tell you firsthand that a significant number of the results that people get are faked or flawed. It was a common practice for people who worked there to call their friends and have them do the surveys or make them up altogether. I quit this job when the owner of the company told me to lie to Kraft Foods, a very major food company in the US.

    The design on the studies was very poor as well. You could tell that the research these companies were paying thousands of dollars for were poorly designed. Rarely did I ever see any reverse polarization on the scales, thus often I would see the halo effect come into play when people just wanted to hurry up and finish it so they could get their three dollars.

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