In view of the alarming standoff between the media owners and SAARF, I’ve been asked by SA Marketing Magazine to reflect momentarily on a world without AMPS, as there seems to be a perception in some sectors of the media industry that nobody is actually addressing these issues.

Firstly that perception is incorrect. Interested parties are putting in a massive amount of work behind the scenes to try and preserve the rich heritage of media and marketing information contained in AMPS and I, amongst many others, have been commenting on this for the past 2 years, as is indicated in the 4 blogs below.

The problem is that many people, people who should know better, are confusing the need to preserve the information contained in AMPS with attempts to preserve the legal entity which is SAARF.

As I have indicated in the content you are about to read AMPS has not been without its shortcomings. Some of those shortcomings may be directly attributable to the intransigence of SAARF’s previous management but whatever the case, throwing the baby out with the bath water is rarely a sound behavioural practice. Certainly it tends to be terminal for the baby and conceiving another baby is very rarely an effective cure for losing the first one.

The industry needs to fix AMPS and if in fixing it to everybody’s satisfaction we give it another name, then so be it. For the moment that name seems to be JES (Joint Establishment Survey). Call it Fred if it makes you feel better. If in creating JES we have also to reconstitute SAARF, to make it more inclusive of stakeholders and make its management more transparent, then let’s do that as well. Right now the industry likes the name JIC (Joint Industry Committee) but if it needs a new name, call it Perry.

You remember Fred Perry? He’s not the last Brit to win the Men’s singles at Wimbledon but he’s certainly the last interesting one.

Speaking of interests, what then do we want? Very simply as data users, responsible for investing hundreds of millions with media owners, we want …

Unrestricted access to media data.
Improved and more inclusive sampling
Valid and reliable data and this implies media consumption data that is not produced by media-owners for media-owners. The phrase “publish and be damned” springs to mind. Here’s the bottom line for media owners … you can’t mark your own homework.
More transparency in management of data-production and more engagement from both advertisers and media agencies in the process of data creation.
To a very large degree the impasse between media owners, marketers and agencies can be attributed to the fact that there has been an increasing juniorisation of the participants to the detriment of both AMPS and SAARF.

So for heaven’s sakes, put the egos aside for the moment. As The Economist once observed “When you’re brawling on the edge of a cliff the big question is not “who is right” but “what the hell are you doing on the edge of a cliff“.

So I can conceive of a world without AMPS and SAARF. In fact I can even conceive of a better world without AMPS and SAARF. But I can’t conceive of a world without Fred Perry. And media owners rushing off to create their own little Fred Perry clones in the hope that somehow media strategists can posteriori find a way of putting the pieces together again is the stuff of fairy tales. And that is something I do know about because unless we get the egotists off the edge of the cliff I’ll be spending the final years of my life in media reading Humpty Dumpty stories to my grandchildren.

Blog 1: No more Media Chocolate for you!

When I was recently asked by The Media to participate in an open forum at GIBS Institute, to “Demystify Print Media Research”, the proposed title of my opening address was “To be more effective we need to change some of the questions in AMPS”!

To my mind that’s a little like saying … “In order to lose weight I need to change the kind of chocolates I’m eating”!

No Gordon! Stop with the chocolates! I know they taste nice and they make you feel great but the simple truth is they’re not good for you. Go find a piece of celery or an apple.

Have you ever wondered why chocolate tastes so good? Apparently Chocolate contains more than 300 known chemicals. Scientists have been working on isolating specific chemicals and chemical combinations which may explain some of the pleasurable effects of consuming chocolate. Caffeine is the most well-known of these chemical ingredients. There’s Theo-bromine, a weak stimulant. Phenyl-ethylamine is also found in chocolate. It’s related to amphetamines, which are strong stimulants.

AMPS is a little like a piece of chocolate. Packed full of interesting facts and marketing stimulants. And every year, or in the case of TAMS, every day, we get more and more slabs of information about the market. So when we turn off the Telmar switch in our brains at the end of the day, we feel really good about ourselves and our information rich media plans.

However, it is really worth noting that while stimulants contribute to a temporary sense of well-being, there are other chemicals and other theories as to why chocolate makes us feel good. One of the most interesting findings comes from researchers at the Neurosciences Institute in San Diego, California. They believe that “chocolate contains pharmacologically active substances that have the same effect on the brain as marijuana”.

This is my point. If you think changing a few questions is all that’s required to sustain AMPS’ world class status … and it is a world class product … then you must either be smoking something or eating too much media chocolate.

There has been a revolution in media. 20 years ago marketers believed that advertising worked and that all we in media needed to do, was measure the audience and put a price to it. Now clients are asking us “does advertising work anymore?” and we are trying to fob them off by answering “I don’t know but here’s a million readers”.

We also need to recognise that the composition of the market has undergone a quantum shift. 20 years ago, if you went down Old Potchefstroom Road … now Chris Hani Road … you would have found a squadron of Ratels … now you can find Maponya Mall. You’ve been to Maponya Mall right? So here’s a piece of media celery for you to chew on! Would it surprise you to know that according to AMPS 2011BA there are only 2 LSM10 households in Soweto? RAMS 2011/4 tells me there are none.

Not one LSM10 household in the whole of Soweto? So who the hell is shopping at Maponya Mall?

That’s why I changed the topic to read … “to be more effective AMPS needs a total overhaul”. Because if you think there are no LSM10 households in Soweto then you must be eating chocolate!

Blog 2: AMPS … Taking the Road Less Travelled By

For an industry that makes a living by telling its clients to embrace change and not to be afraid of innovation, we show a remarkable aversion to taking our own advice.

In a recent blog entitled No More Media Chocolate for You I made the point that whilst AMPS has been, and still is, a world class product, the best way to ensure its legacy is to recognize that the vehicle which drives the media industry in Mzansi needs a major overhaul, not just a routine service and oil change.

Many colleagues have berated me (again) for being a media hothead, arguing that in order to keep AMPS cruising along, all we need to do is “adapt and tweak” a few things here and there.

Watching the intensity of the industry debate around the future of AMPS, and listening to the growing mantra of mutually exclusive media sector interests, one does not get the sense that we have the time to “adapt and tweak” this amazing product. If anything, one gets a strong sense that we need to be bold and create new benchmarks.

If we had just been content to “tweak and adapt” in 1990 there would be no LSMS and we would still be trying to segment markets using race as a primary differentiator. If South Africans had been content to “tweak and adapt” in 1992 we would still have a tricameral parliamentary system, and not a democracy.

Increasingly media strategy and buying is viewed by marketers as an accountable business activity, not an academic treatise on reliable research methodology. Being content with “tweaking” AMPS so that data is reliable doesn’t really help when, increasingly, it is the validity of the data that clients are challenging.

I’m no research expert but I do know that when I take my clients to Maponya Mall and then try to convince them AMPS is correct when it reflects only two LSM10 respondents in Soweto (or none at all if I use RAMS), then I come away looking a little less than smart.

Obviously there is a great deal more to AMPS than media information but, from a media perspective, we need to acknowledge there has been a revolution in media. And right now, we are sitting at the cross roads. 20 years ago marketers believed, rightly, that advertising worked and that all we in media needed to do was measure the audience and put a price to it. Pricing for advertising success! When the pricing started looking a little less enticing, we went into the media discount business and called it “added value”.

Now those same clients are asking us “does advertising work anymore, at any price?” and we are trying to fob them off by answering “I don’t know but here’s a million readers”. The paradigm in media planning has shifted from measuring media audiences (counting heads) to measuring media effectiveness (penetrating heads). And right now AMPS is in danger of falling behind on this delivery platform.

Let’s be proactive. Let’s open the debate on what data we need in the coming decade to make better media decisions.

For instance, does the radio industry really need to report 6 RAMS diaries annually when they can’t even answer the most fundamental questions about the radio listening experience? In the 70s a client asked me whether people really did listen to radio in the office, in the morning, and I was unable to provide the answer. Almost 40 years later I am still unable to provide that answer using AMPS/ RAMS.

Do we really need to sample rural areas in every AMPS survey? Why not have one national AMPS survey and one massive Major Metropolitan survey MMAMPS)? Surely this is where the vast majority of advertising spend is being directed?

Maybe my colleagues are right! Maybe, in suggesting that it’s better to make sound business decisions than to create seamless and predictable data trends,

I am being a media hothead. Maybe change and innovation is simply too hard and unpredictable.

But when it comes to making choices at the crossroads, as a media man, I … I have always take the road less travelled by and that has made all the difference!

Blog 3: The SAARF-AMPS Debacle: Stick ‘em in the naughty corner … or learn to play darts!

Having four grandchildren under the age of five is a really interesting experience. As an old media hack, observing their innate creativity, their general disinclination to accept responsibility for any of their own actions, other than those that are rewarded with unconditional praise, and their periodic tantrums, makes me hanker for the old days back in a full service advertising agency. You know, when advertising was a marketing discipline, not just a line on a balance sheet and you could calculate campaign GRPS by throwing darts at a dartboard.

I often wish the late Alan McClarty and I had patented that system. It was incredibly accurate and right up there with the best of Google algorithms. Our ability to generate high audiences on relatively low budgets was both legendary and, until now, a well-protected trade secret. We were never irresponsible though, and we always stuck to well established media practice (Reach x Frequency = GRPS). So, treble-tops generated 60 GRPS (20% @3OTS). 50 GRPS for a bulls-eye! For some strange reason though our campaigns always performed worse after a long media lunch, and totally underperformed on a Friday evening. Go figure! Obviously some innate flaw in the system!

In those days, we had as much fun in media as my grandchildren have in the sandpit. Interestingly, the primary emotion that seems to govern the sandpit relationship between my grandchildren, is their constant fear that what they have is not quite as nice as what the others have (Well, not so much the 4 year old because she’s quite grown up). But they have no concept of the cost of anything, and every squabble centres on the perceived value of the mutually desired object. A plastic margarine tub has as much nominal value as a battery operated earth mover. Depending, of course on who actually is actually holding the object. Flair-ups over custard are particularly brutal.

The sight of a bunch of grown-ups squabbling over the funding of media data under the SAARF banner leaves me incredulous. Each convinced that they are not getting their “fair share” they would rather pollute the sandpit than let anybody else play in it. Unlike my grandchildren though, these giants of the industry focus their squabbles on the price of everything, and show little regard for the value. And when confronted by concerned onlookers they all point at the other and default to the time honoured IME solution. It Wasn’t Me!

With toddlers it’s understandable. With adults it’s simply called greed. I’ve no idea what the solution is but at least with grandchildren you can stick them in the naughty corner.

In the meantime, I’m in the pub practising my darts. Mayibuye media!

Blog 4: Radio and the Sounds of Silence

I was listening to radio this morning. That is actually tuned in and listening as opposed to cruising around with a bit of muzak in the background, dodging taxis and trying to time my lane-changes so as to pass through the Nazi-tolls with my car perfectly centred on the dotted lines. To be honest I don’t know if that actually works in terms of confusing the gantries but it’s really good fun watching the drivers in your rear-view mirror attempting the tactic once they’ve figured out what’s going on.

So, because I was listening I was really intrigued by the evidence led by acoustic engineer Ivan Lin at the Oscar Pistorious trial today. He reminded me of something truly fundamental about the broadcast industry. Something we’ve basically forgotten even though Simon & Garfunkel sang about it a long time ago …

People talking without speaking

People hearing without listening.

The difference between hearing and listening. You know what I’m talking about.

Hearing is simply the passive act of perceiving sound via the ear. If you are not hearing-impaired then “hearing” simply happens.

Listening on the other hand is something you consciously choose to do. Listening requires concentration so that your brain processes and constructs meaning from words, sound & sentences. Listening leads to learning and is arguably the pre-cursive state for “theatre of the mind” to exist. And as we all know, “theatre of the mind” is the cornerstone of creative radio. Or so the RAB keeps telling us anyway.

When we consider that one the most fundamental assumptions in media planning is that people consume media despite the presence of advertising not because of it, we come to understand that, when we are talking radio, most people are “hard of listening” rather than “hard of hearing”.

When it comes to using media research data however, in our desperate desire to win over the hearts and minds of procurement executives, most media decision-makers have become obsessed with the reliability of the data rather than applying their minds to understanding the validity. And if you don’t know the difference between reliable research data and valid research data, I’ll see you at the AMASA Weekend Workshop next month.

Most of us are so used to accepting the standard definitions of media consumption that we have forgotten to interrogate what they actually mean. If we consider the current definition of radio listenership embraced by the industry …

“By listen we mean that you personally listened to the radio. It may be all of a programme or only part of it. It doesn’t matter whether it was your own radio or somebody else’s. Nor does it matter where you listened to it.”

… we have to wonder whether we are not in fact measuring “hearing” rather than “listening”.

Of course one of the key advantages of reporting the “hearership” of a radio station, rather than some measure of active listenership, is that the reported audience figures will remain high. And as we all know, the higher the hearership the higher the advertising rate. It’s a grand system. As long as you keep the data reliable (and radio data in Mzansi is reliable to the point of terminal predictability) and control the qualitative variables, you can be sure nobody is going to derail the procurement train.

In fact, it’s not dissimilar to the print industry’s firm commitment to a definition of readership which has almost reached the laughable point where there is an inverse correlation between circulation and readership.

So when the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) in Mzansi gives the advertising and media industry the middle finger, as they have done, and sets off to create a new audience currency that better suits their commercial needs, you have to question whether it’s their intention to continue measuring “hearing” (which will keep those audience numbers & ad-rates nice and high) or whether they intend to catch the ROMI train with the rest of the media world by attempting to measure the actual impact of radio (which is a function of active listening) on any communication plan.

On reflection, I’m pretty sure I can work out which route the NAB will favour, despite the fact that increased radio audiences will translate into an increased expectation of in-market response amongst agencies and marketers. And increased expectation will lead to under-delivery (not in procurement terms but in marketing and advertising terms) and ultimately the demise of the medium as an effective communication because radio stations are selling listeners and delivering hearers.

Actually advertisers are beginning to figure this out but many have arrived at the wrong conclusion. Witness to this fact is the almost complete erosion of the traditional 30s radio spot in favour of massively expensive activations. Most radio activations are little more than advertisers paying a premium to convert hearers to listeners, by giving away their margins in order to fund payment for the total audience, which of course includes the hearers the advertisers weren’t interested in the first place.

It’s a sad indictment of the media industry in Mzansi that it remains so firmly committed to selling (and I guess buying for that matter) the LCD (Lowest Common Denominator) of so called listenership, viewership and readership at a discount, when they should be taking a leaf out of the digital book and selling the HCD (Highest Common Denominator) at a premium. If the digital industry was run by broadcasters in Mzansi, they would still be trying to flog page impressions to advertisers.
But hey! We’re all fans of the next shiny thing. It’s so much more fun starting something new than it is to polish up the previous, and admittedly tarnished, shiny thing. As Paul and Art sang …
And the people bowed and prayed, To the neon god they made.

And the sign flashed out its warning,

In the words that it was forming.

And the sign said, the words of the prophets are written on the subway walls

And tenement halls.

And whispered in the sounds of silence

Written By:

Gordon Muller



Article Source: SA Marketing Magazine