You plan a campaign for indigestion tablets. The commercial is a witty take on after-dinner discomfort that has been the subject of water-cooler moments in offices across the South East. But despite high recognition in that region, it failed to create brand awareness north of Watford. Your client is unhappy, because the objective was to build market share in the North of England, and is now threatening to pull the account.
Does this mean that Northerners are immune to indigestion? No, it means you didn't do your research. Because if you had, you would know that although screening the commercial at 8.30pm was within the crucial hour after dinner when Southern indigestion sufferers would be thinking of pain relief, it was too late for Northern sufferers, whose evening meal is on average taken at 6pm.
Despite the homogenisation of accents, regional cultural differences remain strong. As Christian Lee, marketing and new business director at ZenithOptimedia, points out, high-quality research is vital in making sure that campaigns hit home across the UK.
"Research enables you to look at regional distribution patterns and go to where the weakest sales are to drive greater penetration into the market," he explains. "Good research is about linking the localised campaigns to a client's general objectives."
A smart understanding of regional consumers enabled ZenithOptimedia to help Lloyds TSB boost sales of its mortgages in Wales and South East England in a newspaper campaign that delivered a 64% return on investment for the advertisers, according to The Newspaper Society.
It is the kind of market knowledge that any agency worth its salt should deliver, and by far the most established source of data is BMRB/TGI. Based on interviews with 25,000 adults and time diaries, and covering 4,000 brands in 500 product areas, it is updated quarterly and claims to deliver the most comprehensive source of in-depth research available. It can be mined to provide information on everything from media usage (see box) to brand awareness.
"The data is incredibly detailed," says Russell Budden, BMRB TGI marketing executive and media analyst. "For instance, if you are trying to plan a campaign in Scotland across several media platforms, you need to get the mix and timing right. Our data will tell you how and when Scottish consumers use the internet, what television they watch and how they regard regional newspapers."
Even bigger than TGI is Trinity Mirror's Beamer project, launched last year, which is based on 36,000 face-to-face interviews and analyses 72 brands, including Ford and Tesco, across 12 categories. Regularly updated, the service provides tailored data packages to enable clients to understand the lifestyles and media preferences of consumers. Trinity Mirror Regional's marketing manager Michelle Sutlieff, who worked on the project, says: "The data has resulted in much more successful advertising, because clients get better information on the impact of their media and what they should use to reach consumers."
At Manchester-based MV Media, three full-time analysts are employed to interpret data gleaned from powerful geodemographics tool MicroMarketer Generation 3, as well as from local mapping that measures everything from media usage to customer spread. The data is so detailed that MV Media was able to show its client Going Places how it should tailor branch-level offers according to the age of residents in local catchment areas.
MediaCom has also added a groundbreaking research tool to its data capture. In 2005, the company invested in Real World Street, a long-running ethnological study of 25 households in the same street. Mick Mernagh, managing partner at MediaCom, explains: "One of the project's main aims was to give us an understanding of what it is like to live a life in one of our regions." Already running in Yorkshire, further Real World Streets are planned for the North West and Scotland.
Getting down to street level provides a cultural context for campaigns and highlights long-term trends that are not always picked up in one-off interviews, according to Mernagh. He claims MediaCom's Real World data has provided unique insights into consumer behaviour and regional attitudes.
He says: "For instance, food takes on a different meaning as you travel across the UK. People eat at different times and nights for the family takeaway are varied."It is the kind of local information that ensures a campaign has maximum impact - and would have helped those hapless planners on the indigestion tablet account