Who should pay for advertising research?

Advertising Research is an oxymoron, even though it may not be as bad as Military Intelligence which is the classic contradiction of terms used in conjunction. When I ‘sold my soul’ and made an incomprehensible switch from the advertising to the research sector many people thought that I was mad, and my parting gift was a kinetic desk toy of leaping blue dolphins as if to say that I would be a fish out of water.

Ad agency executives don’t think much of their research counterparts and it’s mainly because they live life on different planets. On one hand you have a noisy environment similar to a fish market filled with prima donnas and their inflated egos, barking out ideas that they  believe will change life as we know it. On the other hand you have something that is quite like a sterile chemistry lab with awkward, quiet people who are married to their data and spend all their time on this earth slowly going over heaps of findings, which they prefer to deal with over people.

When the two groups meet to review client work, they provide dazzling daytime entertainment full with conflict, drama and sound effects. The researches, with their lack of emotional intelligence, have no qualms bluntly telling clients that their ad campaigns have spectacularly crashed and burned. The shocked ad executives’ predictable response is to question the veracity of the survey findings, and if that fails to impress the client they will then mercilessly attack the credibility of the research methodology and eventually the character of the innocent statisticians.

After these encounters, they unanimously declare that if they never, ever meet again it will be too soon! Yet we know that they will, and they must, because successful advertising campaigns are based on insight and sound data.

The question however arises about who should finally settle the research bill. With this conundrum, the research agencies are now treated to an agile dance between the client and the ad agency. The clients are convinced that since ad strategies must be founded on empirical data then it is the ad agency that should pay for it.

The ad agency believes that as the research is procured specifically to conjure concepts and media plans for the demanding client, then it is they that should foot the bill. While the vigorous debate goes on, the unassuming research executives have discovered that because neither side wants to be seen as incompetent, that they will each separately buy the research. That type of waste is bad for the industry however sweet it might be for the research companies.

William the Conquerer produced the first and most comprehensive research on property ownership and funded it from the taxes that he collected from his Kingdom and this set the tone for the rest of the world. We can borrow a leaf from this and apply a levy on the profits of the stakeholders so as to distribute the burden and eliminate the waste created by the multiple purchase of the same survey data.

The government has a critical role to play by underwriting the first waves of research at this scale in order to enable the initiative to gain momentum and provide immense value in the long term. It has to be a collaborative approach with everyone keeping their eye firmly on the lasting benefits.


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