Manipulating Market Research

Last week The Debating Society hosted an event on Market Research is becoming more of a Manipulator than a Messenger at the House of Commons.

An interesting discussion, with both sides represented by leading speakers. Addressing issues for the Motion were Ben Godacre, author of Bad Science and David walker, MD of Audit Commission ; and Ben Page, MD of Ipsos Mori public affairs and Andrew Hawkins, Chairman of polsters Comres, speaking against.

Ben Godacre argued very strongly that research material was manipulated to enhance stories for the press and, that the way information was sourced did not reflect the truth, but were used for political gain. Examples he gave included the reference to a recent article which quoted a survey of young teenagers and their knowledge of the Holocaust. The “story” in question inferred that a poor proportion of the British young population had any idea whatsoever as to what happened in the Holocaust.

Ben’s argument was that many of the children in question were below the age when the holocaust was taught in schools as part of the national curriculum. Suggesting that their lack of knowledge about the holocaust was down to ignorance and poor teaching standards in schools was therefore a distorted statement and a complete manipulation of the press. He felt that this outlined how market research could be and is used to manipulate the view of the general public for the benefit of a good media story.

Ben Page, of Ipsos Mori, argued against the motion saying that the examples quoted were unfair as they were indeed an abuse of the press and not an indication of the true value of market research. Most market research material is not promoted to the public but used for internal businesses and organisations. Bad polling happens and so does bad journalism.

In fact once the debate opened to the crowd it was apparent that the majority of the house felt that the debate really was about the incompetence of bad journalists.

In summing up Page stated : Accuracy is increasing. Our sophistication in understanding the research process has never been more detailed. Research is better than ever and there is more scrutiny than ever. The idea that we are turning into spin doctors just has to be rejected.

The motion was defeated.

Perhaps we should all think twice if we aren’t already, when reading media stories which quote results of leading polls and really think about where the data has come from and who the data is targeting. After all, the market research industry accounts for a huge proportion of employment opportunities within the marketing mix and would not attract so many academic and educated individuals if the integrity of its policies were truly in doubt.


by manuela on March 25, 2009

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