So I join Thinkbox to oversee its research and, at almost exactly the same time, Tess Alps posts a scathing blog sending up bad media research. Was this some sort of timely hint? I’ve barely discovered where the kettle is and it has been made publicly very clear to me that any research I do is subject to the highest standards. A hint of hypocrisy and I’m toast. No pressure then.
Thank all that is good and pure then that the first bit of research I’ve got my mitts on at Thinkbox – Payback 3 by Ebiquity – wasn’t conducted by standing on a street corner outside ITV asking people what they reckoned was effective advertising. I did suggest it, but Tess gave me a wedgie.
Instead Ebiquity did an econometric analysis of 3,000 ad models across nine ad categories over five years. No dodgy extrapolations from a single case study here; not a sweeping assertion based on the claimed behaviour of a wobbly sample in sight. If anything, there is a case for being a bit too robust.
We published Payback 3 last week and it has put us in the odd position of almost wishing that the results weren’t quite so good for TV advertising. Almost.
As a trade body with an obvious axe to grind and swing, the trouble with commissioning research is that, if it comes back so strongly in your favour, however independent it is, people are going to scratch their chin, nudge each other and nod knowingly. Such scepticism is fine and goes with the territory. ‘TV body says TV’s great’ isn’t a great headline (although it doesn’t stop ‘Online this says online that is great’ headlines); but that doesn’t mean it isn’t true and the product of rigorous research.
I won’t revisit all the findings of Payback 3 now (you can read all about it here) but there are two things I’d like to emphasise, aside from its independence and rigour.
First is that as well as analysing advertising’s impact on sales we also, more importantly, looked at profit. In the immediate aftermath of publishing the research findings, lots of attention was focused on the average ROIs (Really Opaque Integers) that emerged. Just to be ultra-clear, the ROIs from Payback 3 are about profit; the extra money a business actually puts in the bank thanks to advertising investment. So TV’s ROI of 1:1.7 means that if a TV advertiser spends £1, once all the costs associated with sales and distribution and media etc. are paid, they have 70p leftover to put in the bank. Spend £1 million and that’s £700,000 profit.
(In an earlier Payback study with PwC, which was verified by Ebiquity, we published a sales ROI figure for TV of 1:4.5. This is consistent with the 1:1.7 profit ROI.)
The second point is that Ebiquity looked at five different forms of advertising – TV, radio, press, online static display and outdoor – and all of them were proven to pay back. Yes, TV performed better – and made the others perform better – and yes it was commissioned by us, but that shouldn’t detract from the overall message that advertising pays back. From our point of view the TV message is clearly powerful, but as an industry we should use the research to re-iterate the case for why businesses should invest in advertising. Group hug, anyone?