Academia is often criticized for being a too slow innovation force, with research being either too fundamental and abstract or specific but outdated by the time it gets published. This is certainly the case in more applied disciplines like marketing communication and advertising research. While I will not contest this observation, I will try to make clear in this blogpost that the slowness of academia should not be replaced by mediocre research from non-academic research agencies. Of course, everybody is free to conduct research but non-academic research is rapidly gaining impact in society and this could be troublesome if it is treated just as if it was a piece of research that went through the complete scientific publication process.
Today, a press release about TV-ad avoidance by youngsters received quite some attention in the Belgian press. This morning De Standaard, a high quality newspaper, published an article or pre-release of the research report. Later today, the popular radio show of @thesoundofsam broadcast a lengthy interview with one of the authors of the report. Basically, the pre-release states that youngsters are massively avoiding TV-ads, both in real time and recorded formats. The gist of the arguments is that these youngsters differ enormously from the adult viewers and that traditional media will have to step up.
What is my problem with this particular piece of research? Actually I don't know. Maybe it is a fine study, and maybe all my objections I now have (based on academic papers I have read on the same subject) are to be dismissed. The problem I have deals with how such studies are made public and the amount of attention they receive compared to the low standards they have to meet.
As it appears, the study has been carried out in a cooperation between a management school and a private partner, DearMedia. The latter specialises in "digital strategies and innovation" and they are the only ones talking in public about the report. If you would ask me, there is some serious conflict of interest between their business and the outcome of the study. So instead of weakening my objections, it even increases them.
Now, suppose for an instance that the study is still a perfect piece of research and the conclusions seem genuine. Is there still a problem? In academia, there would indeed be one. Recent history at least provides one clear example of how things can go wrong when you communicate too early. In the well-known Stapelgate scandal, one of Stapel's co-authors, Roos Vonk, also was to be blamed because she communicated about their exciting research findings (which she probably did not know were faked) long before they were submitted to colleagues and reviewed. Irrespective of the fraud, the case should inform us about the dangers of too swift press releases. Always wait for the scientific feedback. Maybe, in your own excitement you overlooked something and the data are not at all that exciting as you believe yourself.
So here we are, with a report generating quite some attention, making the traditional media shiver and the digital strategists chuckle even before the report is released (it is only due next friday). There is no real trace of the scientific collaborators who could provide some detailed insights in how the results actually compare against existing findings. And the only ones we hear are those who will make the most profit out of it.
I am eager to read their full report.