Raymond Snoddy on media: People-watching moves up a level

Those looking for blood, or at least a decent verbal punch-up, when the global marketing heads of Unilever and Procter & Gamble went toe-to-toe at the Venice Media Festival, were, of course, disappointed.

Alan Rutherford of Unilever and Bernhard Glock of P&G, who between them control marketing budgets of more than $12bn a year, were politeness itself. But while they didn't lay a finger on each other, they didn't pull any punches when it came to the advertising and media industries.

Glock was the more blunt of the two, warning that the agencies just didn't get it. 'I need better knowledge of when and where consumers are receptive of messages and a better understanding of consumers,' he said, adding that most measurement was still media-centric and conducted in silos. P&G wanted 'content, context and contact' to enable it to allocate its marketing budgets to reach its targets.

Rutherford had bad news for ad agencies about who gets invited to the 'top table'. The default mode may still be to make the first contact with the ad men, but, increasingly, companies such as Unilever may need a digital or media agency up there instead. 'Communications planning is about data, and finding content that can engage with the consumer. Once this is up front, execution is easier,' he argued.

But the inaugural media festival did offer some hope on the quality of measurement and data. US electronic-measurement group Arbitron is at work on a system that could integrate all media, including print, with data on consumer purchases, via Project Apollo, a collaboration between it, Nielsen and leading advertisers.

Arbitron has already come up with considerable insights into consumers' media behaviour with the help of its portable people meter (PPM). Thanks to this, we know that most radio stations almost certainly have bigger audiences than thought, and that, at least in the US, time-shifting of television using PVRs is relatively constant at about 10% of viewing.

The PPM is also good at measuring out-of-home viewing. The assumption had been that this takes place mainly in bars and restaurants, and that people pay little attention. In fact, in the US, more than 80% of out-of-home viewing is in someone else's home or at work, with only 5% in bars or restaurants.

Moreover, Arbitron's chief researcher, Robert Patchen, believes we are three years or so away from being able to measure virtually everything.

The big leap forward will be provided by RFID (radio frequency identification) tabs - wafer-thin radio circuits that will be attached to both media and consumer products. Wal-Mart, for example, has already decreed that all its suppliers have to RFID-tag everything within three years.

The information emitted by the tags on purchases, which could even cover the time spent reading a newspaper, would be transmitted automatically by the mini-circuits over a few feet to the PPMs. As a result, Arbitron can claim that we are not far away from 'a single-source, multimedia and purchase-measurement platform'. If it can deliver, it should make Rutherford and Glock very happy marketers.

These more sophisticated forms of measurements are coming just in the nick of time. As Bob Meyers, chief executive of consultancy Millward Brown, put it in Venice, there are now 36 touchpoints whereby consumers can interact with media, ranging from mobile phones, blogs and chat rooms to the more conventional newspapers, magazines and TV.

Despite the vast proliferation of media, Meyers still believes firmly that the changes assaulting us all are evolutionary, rather than revolutionary.

30 SECONDS ON ... ARBITRON'S PORTABLE PEOPLE METER

- The portable people meter (PPM) is worn like a pager and can detect what consumers listen to on the radio and watch on TV as well as the media they stream over the internet and what they hear in stores and entertainment venues.

- Each time it detects an audio signal within a station or network's audio stream, it logs it. This makes it more accurate than handwritten logs and immune to forgetful test subjects.

- Arbitron began its development of the PPM in 1992. It has since conducted more than 75 studies and field tests in more than 15 countries.

- The results of these tests led Canada, Belgium, Norway, Singapore and Kenya to select the PPM for commercial ratings or marketing information.

- Last week, Iceland became the first country to select Arbitron's PPM to measure audiences for both radio and TV.

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