The IRS has come a long way since its first report in 1995, when it challenged the existing sporadic research studies with an every year continuous research with a reporting every six months. The superior sample structure, comprehensive information design and collaborative ownership enabled the IRS to become the industry standard soon.
In 2010, the IRS started releasing the data on a quarterly basis. Let us try to understand the significance of this change and the impact that it has on the media research users. But, before we explore this specific improvement, we need to get a perspective on the status of IRS as a research input in the media industry today.
The strategic challenge a decade ago was of reaching audiences relevant for the brand. The availability of robust data on key demographics and product – media linked data in the IRS was a boon to the media planners and so IRS became integral to every media strategy for most media agencies.
During the last decade, there have been significant changes in the media consumption behaviour of consumers in India and hence, also in the pattern of advertising spends by advertisers. While, the overall advertising spends have been growing at a healthy rate, the media choice is shifted from Print to TV, and is now tending towards OOH and Digital. This changing media landscape does have implications on the information coverage in the IRS for it to be still relevant and useful as a research database for media strategy planning as it was envisaged when launched.
Not only have the number of media that make part of every plan increased, but the number of ways in which each media is used for advertising has increased significantly. Each media option delivers something different for the brand. Hence, the media choice decision now is far more complex than it was a few years ago and it needs a lot more dimensions of understanding of the media vehicles than just the “estimated readership numbers”. There is a need to understand the nature and intensity of the interaction that a consumer has with each type of media exposure. There is a need to capture such interactions into objective variables that can then be used by planners to compare media options in an objective way to decide the best combination for delivering the campaign objectives for brands.
In the absence of such evolved measures, like most other syndicated databases, the IRS, too, has got relegated to a database of measuring only readership which can be best used only as a buying currency. A quick analysis will further reveal that the market price of a media option and its readership do not have a strong relationship and that there are many more variables beyond readership that ultimately decide the market price.
In such a context, I want us to now look at the issue of “quarterly reports” of the IRS and I must say that it does not address any of the strategic issues discussed above. If at all, it is able to bring the changes happening in the market to the media research users at a higher frequency than before.
The competition between publications also causes variations in the readership numbers and a quarterly report has the chance to bring these numbers to the market much faster than a six-monthly report. New publications are launching so often as new brands come in or existing brands expand to new geographies or target new segments. There is a need for the “readership numbers” for business transactions to progress smoothly and a quarterly report brings these numbers early for these new publications. This is also useful when new products and service brands are launched in the market. Advertisers now need to wait less for their new brands to feature in the IRS data. Of course, the IRS maintains its quality control of not reporting brands and publications that are too recent or have low sample size or depict unstable numbers.
So, ‘recency’ of numbers that we are seeing is certainly an advantage that the IRS quarterly reports provide. However, we must not forget that the IRS data is still a moving annual total (MAT), so even though we are getting the numbers every quarter, these are still an average of the past 12 months. This is consciously done by the IRS to even out any “seasonal” or “tactical” fluctuations in the market. However, now when we are providing the data quarterly, responding to the need of the dynamic market, we need to question if by suppressing these fluctuations are we doing justice to those who want to read the fluctuations in the markets.
IRS has a real opportunity to become an indicator of the success of promotion campaigns for publications, if it is able to report the data without averaging it over the year. I am sure prudent planners can always compute the annual average if they so require. Not only media, even product and service brands can use the IRS similarly. The opportunity is huge, though, I agree, not easy to be implemented given the complexity involved in the sampling process and the stringent sample adequacy norms adhered to by the IRS.
In conclusion, I would like to say that the IRS has been one of the most successful products in the country. But, like all products and brands there is a point when one requires a re-thinking for the future and for the IRS that point has come. Incremental improvements such as the quarterly report will not aid this re-construction of the brand unless these are part of a larger strategic change that has been set into motion for the future.
(Premjeet Sodhi is President – The Collaborative, Lintas Media Group.)