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2017 – Everything You Know Is Wrong!

As U2 recently announced a tour in support of the 30th anniversary of ‘The Joshua Tree’, I thought I’d pinch one of their soundbites (OK, for the pedants among you, I know they used this for the ZOO TV tour but these days, who’s checking?!!) as the theme of my article.

Contrary to expectations, consumer research, public opinion (allegedly!), expert views and whatever other form of forecasting you can think of : Britain voted to leave the European Union and as of this week, Brexit does appear to mean Brexit; Donald Trump will shortly be inaugurated as the next President of the USA; Boris Johnson is Britain’s Foreign Secretary; Leicester are the reigning Premiership Champions; Chicago Cubs won their first World Series in 108 years. Oh and given recent revelations around the hacking of the U.S. Presidential campaign and the leaking of the final episode of ‘Sherlock’, it would appear that the Russians do have advanced cyber capabilities.

As if that wasn’t enough, Facebook, arguably the dominant medium of 2016 (most of the clients I speak to would definitely agree) and certainly part of the global digital duopoly alongside Google, admitted a raft of measurement errors whether that be inflated video metrics, spurious increases in time spent viewing or discrepancies in reported numbers of likes and shares. I have some sympathy (though not much) with Steve Hatch, Regional Director, Northern Europe of Facebook who said in a ‘Campaign’ article last month :

‘ We know we are not perfect. When we have made mistakes, we’ve acknowledged them’.

However, my sympathy is not prompted by some unexpected Facebook humility but because they’re not solely to blame – clients and agencies are equally culpable by not questioning, challenging and continually applying the usual scepticism apparent in normal trading practices. Sure, I understand the ‘big kid in the playground’ retort but is that really a valid excuse?

Traditional media research may be better (after all, it’s had a few more decades to sort things out) but it’s not the panacea to all ills. I have no doubt TV delivers millions of engaged consumers on a daily basis but is BARB genuinely a true reflection? Similarly, the same could be said of all other traditional media monitoring systems. How often do we/you question it?

In addition, I believe that genuine consumer insight is at the heart of all good communications’ strategies but I regularly experience analysis that is ill-informed, judgemental, sketchy and all too often, the opinion of one person. Now, more than ever, there are a plethora of research sources readily available at our fingertips but they should be utilized, analysed and processed with the requisite professional rigour.

Here at MediaCom Edinburgh we’re as guilty as anyone at times but we do try – our Method Insight process is designed to inject an element of peoples’ real lives into any insight we generate but it still doesn’t happen often enough. That said, do you still just believe what you’re told or do you know that the right rigour has been applied?

As I’m sure you’re aware, the prevailing media zeitgeist is all about outcomes whether that be views, engagement, clicks, responses, CPAs, CPCs, leads, etc…..ad nauseum – now, I don’t doubt the efficacy of these assertions but do any of them actually mean anything to your business? I’ve been at too many meetings where all of these are used as a measure but no-one seems willing to explicitly acknowledge they’re all different metrics. If your media channels work and deliver a measurable business return then good for you but I don’t think enough people question that.

Buying media is still the major part of what we do on a day-today basis and a healthy scepticism is a key attribute – we still see too many sales presentations diminish themselves with over-exaggerated claims and unsubstantiated findings. If we allow these to continue unchallenged then we run the very real risk of repeating this misrepresentation in our proposals to clients.

Given ‘fake news’ became a thing in 2017, I may be screaming into the wind with this but for now, I’ll err on the side of optimism so…..

Be inquisitive, be sceptical, be rigorous and I’m sure you’ll find that information can still be power! Hopefully, that will mean not everything you come to know in 2017 will be wrong.

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