You are not normal: Thoughts from the MRS Media Summit

2018.06.20

I spent last Thursday at the MRS Media Research Summit, over-caffeinating myself while listening to some talented speakers from media owners, agencies and research agencies explain what they’ve been working on this year.

Our industry is increasingly focused on measurement and using research to prove a commercial point. We saw several brands and agencies share their thinking on smarter ways to demonstrate the value of media for advertisers:

  • Lumen and British Gas used eye-tracking technology to understand how to design – and buy- ads people actually see
  • On-Device Research and Sky came up with a way of measuring cross-media add spend that delivered ‘game changing’ insights
  • Future Thinking and Sky Atlantic used Galvanic Skin Response to show the emotional impact of branded content
  • C4 and ITV worked together to demonstrate the value of broadcaster video-on-demand (BVOD) to advertisers

But, the most powerful theme was one I didn’t see coming. It was about me – or more specifically, us, as researchers.

We are not normal.

If you are reading this, the chances are you work in market research or media (or both!)

You probably work in London, and very likely live there too. You voted to remain. You know what a Poke bowl is.

Ian Murray of House 51 and Andrew Tenzer from Trinity Mirror’s presentation on unconscious bias offered a timely reminder that we, as an industry, think quite differently from most people.

Some of these differences are on our radar: that we are a young industry, more comfortable with new technology, politically left-leaning. But it goes further than that. House 51 used a task to illustrate how our style of thinking diverges from the mainstream. In a word association, which do you think is the most natural pairing, A or B?

Shampoo goes with …

  1. Conditioner
  2. Hair

Money is on the fact that you went with A.

Casting an eye over job adverts for researchers and planners, it’s clear they are looking for people who are analytical thinkers. This analytical mind-set (married with the fact that our jobs require us to chew over the intricacies of brands and behaviours for the best part of a working week), means that we tend to group things into categories and devote more time to logical evaluation of tasks. To be reductive, we have a tendency to see the trees over the wood.

We have a different psychological profile compared to the mainstream. We are more likely to be risk-takers, to display strong emotions, to have a greater need for belonging, but at the same time, a stronger sense of personal agency. We also manage to fool ourselves: agency people are outwardly left-wing but actually holds several beliefs contrary to their position, such as blaming an individual for being poor.

This means that we need to constantly challenge our assumptions and conclusions – especially discussing what the general public want from media.

Several of the day’s speakers drew attention to the gaps between our perception and reality: Radiocentre exposed the disparity between the media we perceive to be effective, and what’s proven to deliver the best ROI, while C4 and ITV challenged our perceptions of BVOD viewing by proving that 70% of viewing occasions actually happen on a TV, and only 3% happen OOH.

A different side to the same coin, Platypus highlighted the need for larger, more thorough sampling to make sure we are reflecting the voices of a diverse range of people. Later, Auto Trader and Join the Dots’ sang the praises of their mobile ethnography as means of really understanding the frustration car buyers go through as the pressure to make a choice left them increasingly more fed up.

A nice reminder constantly re-evaluate what we think we know.

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