In recent months, allegations of racism have been made not just against the advertising, media and marketing industries, but also against the research which underpins it, specifically the South African Advertising Research Foundation's AMPS, RAMS, TAMS and LSM products. In order to investigate these allegations, SAARF recently held a day of public hearings, where stakeholders in the communications industry, as well as the general public, were invited to present submissions on racism in SAARF's research.
The hearings were chaired by independent moderator, Tim Modise, assisted by a panel of experts with specialist knowledge and experience in advertising, marketing, communications and research. A number of major players attended the hearings.
Removal of race
SAARF's recent removal of the race demographic from all its research products was a major topic of discussion.
Dr Paul Haupt, MD of SAARF, explained that while its research is not in itself racist, there have been accusations of users of the research misusing the race data. "While our task is not that of watchdog, we must nonetheless do what we can to promote the process of transformation in the advertising, media and marketing industries," said Haupt.
This bold move however, has not been met with unequivocal support.
The Southern African Marketing Research Foundation (SAMRA) expressed concern about the removal, saying "research is a tool used to provide as detailed an understanding of markets as possible. To truly understand audiences and markets, it is necessary to dig deep, and to use the many different ways of segmenting a market that are available. Race is a descriptor, one of many. As an industry, we need to move beyond political correctness and base our marketing, research and business efforts on the realities of the day. Surely market researchers want to add understanding about our consumers, not subtract from it?"
Spokesperson Heather Kennedy added that while advertising and media planning often use the race demographic as a filter, it is seldom used as the only filter. "Nobody in their right minds would think to target a product so simplistically at 'the black market' without including other demographic descriptors such as age, gender, and so on."
She concluded that the broad feeling from SAMRA members was that to ignore the realities in search of political correctness defeats the object of research. "It is the interpretation and use of the research results that should come under fire, not the research itself."
Echoing this point, Kanyisa Majikija of First National Bank, in a written submission, said the bank opposed the removal of the race demographic because "racism is not a function of what you record, but how you use the information. We need to record and understand race as a variable in our country for the purposes of avoiding racism and addressing the imbalances caused by racial discrimination in the past."
She said First National Bank would "be most disappointed to see the value of AMPS diminished through the exclusion of variables that are (unfortunately) still meaningful in terms of the South African consumer market, and that would require us to find replacement sources of data."
In another submission, Sanlam Life's executive director, Deon Lessing, said the emerging market is one of the primary areas of focus for Sanlam, and without the race indicator in AMPS, it would be virtually impossible for it to determine the size and characteristics of this market.
"We do not feel that this is a discriminatory practice: just as we identify the female market, or the young adult market, as a specific demographic group to target, so we target the emerging market. We don't argue the fact that some basic needs occur across all demographics, and we are in no way trying to diminish that. It is, however, a fact that just as females have certain financial needs that might differ from that of males, certain needs are distinct to the emerging market."
He expressed concern that the removal of race could force users to resort to using language to try and approximate race, "a move that will in all likelihood cause one to revert back to the old White/Coloured/Indian vs. Black categories that were removed from AMPS a couple of years ago".
The NAB raised a further concern, expressed by a number of parties. While supporting the motivation behind SAARF's decision, the Association cautioned, "the mere acknowledgement of race does not necessarily lead to discriminatory practices. In fact, as South Africa transforms itself, it is often necessary to measure race in order to establish which communities, disadvantaged by apartheid, require the assistance of government programmes."
It pointed out, as an example, that the absence of race data could make the job of the Media Development and Diversity Agency (MDDA) more difficult.
To overcome these concerns, two compromises were suggested. Peter Sullivan of Independent Newspapers, said that while the removal of race sent a good message and would force people to rethink their usual view of the world, it also meant that SAARF would be unable to provide a service asked for by some of its stakeholders, and would not be able to track development. Sullivan suggested therefore, that SAARF track and release race data every five years, for those stakeholders who required it.
SAMRA's suggestion was that SAARF continue to collect the race demographic in its various surveys, but not release this data. The communications industry would then go through a period of working without the race demographic. After a number of years, the industry will either find it has not missed this information, resulting in the race question being dropped from the surveys, or, if the industry feels is has been unable to truly understand its markets, the demographic can be reintroduced. Race information will then be available for those years in which it was not released.
Objections aside however, the general consensus at the hearing was that the removal of the race demographic was an important step for the industry, and one for which SAARF should be congratulated.
Brenda Wortley of the AMF, the recently reconstituted Media Directors' Circle, said that there was "a genuine move within our industry to remove any race blinkers we might have, and to reach all the potential consumers of our clients' brands. For this reason, the AMF supports SAARF's decision to remove the race demographic from its research products."
Dr Nina de Klerk and Ian Shepherd of the AAA said that since race may "wittingly or unwittingly" lead to discriminatory practices in the utilisation of AMPS data, the removal of the demographic was justifiable.
"Careless use of race as a demographic has, in all likelihood, taken place from time to time," says Shepherd. "If it has been discriminatory, it has not been done with deliberate intent. It is however, indicative of a mindset which needs to be changed. The AAA wants to contribute to changing this mindset, and so supports the removal of race as a demographic, and encourages the more effective use of other more meaningful strategic planning parameters such as language."
De Klerk did not feel that this move would lessen the ability of the industry to know its markets, since home language - "a preferred and powerful indicator of culture" - would still be available. She also added that "truly useful segmentation should in any event be derived, bottom up, from brand usage and should not be conveniently replaced by general, predefined segmentation techniques (whether race, age, gender, occupation, life styles, home language etc)."
This bottom up approach will be facilitated by the release of SAARF's branded data product, scheduled for introduction during 2002.
Black media - the neglected cousin
Media owners especially, supported the move, as they felt it would go some way towards balancing the discrepancy of adspend devoted to so-called black versus white media.
New African Publications pointed out that adspend was skewed heavily towards white media, despite the substantial spending power of the large audiences offered by black media. As an example, spokesperson Kim Heller, said that black South Africans make up the lion's share of actual spend in the food and grocery market, as indicated by the Bureau for Market Research (BMR). Yet in spite of this, adspend in the sector continues to go predominantly to so-called white media.
The SABC showed how Ukhozi FM, "the biggest radio station in the Southern hemisphere, with an average radio audience share of 25.3%", attracts only 8% of radio adspend. In contrast, 5FM, with its predominantly white audience profile, attracts 9.2% of radio adspend, with an audience share of 5.1%.
In its submission, YFM too showed how despite a 30% year on year growth of its audience since 1999, it has nonetheless seen a reduction in advertising spend during the first half of 2001, at a negative average growth of 30%.
Speaking for YFM, executive director Dirk Hartford said that dropping race would help black media who are dogged by the misperceptions of the media planning industry. "Media products perceived to be consumed by blacks are generally disadvantaged, despite the quantity and quality of their audiences. When a media product has all the right numbers, and yet can't find advertising because it is a black medium, then something is wrong."
The SABC felt that research played a role in this state of affairs, in that it provided the currency on which media placement decisions were made. "The audience's propensity to purchase a marketer's product is central in determining advertising spend allocation. To establish this propensity, requires research tools that link consumption of the product/brand and audience segments. The 'common currency' research tools however, provide little or limited product/brand and audience segment association - therein lies the problem. The marketer has the say in adding subjective decision-making criteria to selecting media."
These subjective criteria are, at their most basic level, that whites are rich, and blacks are poor, and therefore black media are of less value than those which target whites.
It was agreed by most present that on the whole, marketers are not using the research to make deliberately racist media decisions. Heather Partner of McCain Foods said: "I would fire any of my staff who were making media decisions based on race. I defy any marketer alive to make a decision based on racist perceptions. We would fail in our job of increasing the sales of our brand. As a marketer, I don't look at black or white media. I look for media that will reach my consumers. There cannot be a marketer alive who is not looking at increasing the sales of their products.
"That said however, marketers should be held accountable, because it is they who are commissioning the huge budgets which, in terms of our consumers (no matter what race they are), are being 'correctly or incorrectly' spent."
And while marketers would be foolhardy to limit the advertising of the brands by choosing only white media, it was felt that such discrimination does occur.
"The fact is that people are making decisions based on perceptions, and the biggest cause of these perceptions is SAARF data," says Radmark's Coen Gous. "Most users don't understand the data they're working with. I get briefs from planners who want to advertise an FMCG product to 'WCI housewives'. Because planners are not trained well enough to understand the research, they rely purely on computer bureaux-generated data runs, which spit out percentages. If you look only at averages, you get the perception that all blacks are poor and uneducated, and all whites are rich. The result is inadvertent discrimination against so-called black media.
The point was also raised that the computer bureaux, which deliver SAARF's research in an electronic format, have grouped a number of codes together, which perpetuates the problem. For instance, they have grouped whites, coloureds and Indians into one demographic set, thus reinforcing an outmoded and racist practice.
"That is why I congratulate SAARF for taking the bold step of eliminating race from its research. I would even go so far as to say get rid of language next, before all the untrained planners out there start abusing another demographic, substituting English and Afrikaans for WCI, and Nguni/Sotho for black."
The overwhelming impression of the day therefore, was that the removal of the race demographic was a good decision, but was nonetheless only the beginning.
PMSA spokesperson, Marlon Hitzeroth, said that the removal of the race card should be seen as a first step only. "Race is not the panacea for what needs to be addressed in this industry," he said.
New Africa Publications' Kim Heller questioned the samples of SAARF's products, saying there seemed to be an undercount of black adults and an over-count of white. She said that NAP felt SAARF does not adequately record emigration, leading to AMPS recording 5.1 million whites, versus the 4.4 million seen in the Census. She also felt there was an undercount of hostel dwellers, people in squatter camps, and domestic workers, as seen when AMPS data is compared to certain other sources, such as Eskom's research. The floor also queried the sample split of 10 000 whites, versus about 13 000 blacks, which is not proportionate to the population.
SAARF's chairman, Dr Clive Corder, said that the issue of discrepancies between the AMPS sample, Eskom research and the Census had been raised some years ago. The conclusion had been that differing definitions of what constituted a household was the cause. He added that since the latest Census, projections now being made by the Bureau of Market Research (BMR) and used by AMPS, were very much in line with those of Statistics South Africa. The latest figures are 4.7 million whites according to Stats SA, versus 5.1 million as calculated by the BMR, a difference of only about 8%.
On the issue of the disproportionate split between black and white in the sample, SAARF's main contractor, ACNielsen Media International, explained that this occurred during sample boosting. "The AMPS sample is initially stratified by area, according to the latest census data," said Sue Scott. "Stakeholders' catchment areas are then overlaid, and we boost the sample in these areas to ensure sufficient respondents are measured in the footprint areas of certain media such as radio stations. Since most media are in metropolitan areas, this is where boosting usually takes place. And since historically more whites live in these areas, we pick up more white respondents. All data is however, weighted back to the population, and so is fully representative of the total adult population of South Africa."
Console Tleane of the NCRF queried the validity of certain variables used to determine the LSM groups. He explained, for example, that not having hot running water, an LSM variable, could be due to historical circumstances, rather than a lack of wealth. "These variables need to be revisited, so that groups are not ignored by marketers because of incorrect descriptors," he said.
The way forward
During the course of the SAARF hearings, a number of recommendations were made, to help SAARF advance on the path of transformation. SAARF expressed its willingness to look into all issues raised, and to set up a task force to assist it with this.
These recommendations will be used as input into the government task force that will meet later in the year, to look at the whole issue as debated in parliament in 2001.
- The AMF stressed the need for SAARF to enhance the AMPS offering by adding in new tools to define markets, such as looking at cultural sets, likes and dislikes and value systems. "We need to find other ways to group people and find the commonalities between them," said Brenda Wortley.
She recommended the forming of a high-level task group to investigate the implications of removing the race demographic, and the inclusion of new questions to facilitate market definition.
Such a task group should also look at improving the language descriptors. Patti McDonald, Chief Director: Communication Service Agency of GCIS, said that she has evidence of the development of alarming trends of placement into white rather than black media. While she stressed this needs to be remedied, she nonetheless questioned the removal of race as a demographic while there are not adequate language descriptors to fall back on. "Without the race demographic, and with insufficient language codes, we risk making the problem of targeting only white media even worse," she said. "This will have huge economic implications, not just for the media, but for the country as a whole, as we will not be talking to a large segment of society."
Haupt responded that SAARF would indeed put together a forum to investigate new elements in AMPS, such as questions on lifestyle and activities, as well as psychographic and attitudinal information. He warned that some changes could not be implemented quickly, but that others, such as the language issue, could be.
- The NAB called on SAARF to set "clear transformation targets for its staffing, management and board and to develop appropriate procurement policies and empowerment criteria for its contractors."
SAARF has already set up a draft transformation charter, which seeks to address these concerns.
- The NAB encouraged the Foundation to increase its liaison and communication with smaller media sectors which serve predominantly black audiences, such as community radio, which may feel that "SAARF does not spend adequate resources on researching their media".
In its submission SAARF pointed out that it was already measuring all community radio stations in the country and that all radio stations (commercial and community) were treated in exactly the same way.
- NAP requested that SAARF look into providing data on disposable income and the distribution of income.
SAARF explained that ascertaining disposable income requires a large number of questions, which could mean that AMPS would not be able to cover this topic in any real detail. It undertook however, to look into this if other stakeholders also requested it.
- Marlon Hitzeroth said that more diverse representation on industry boards was essential if a diverse, multicultural industry was to be achieved.
- It was agreed at the hearing that the blame for incidences of racist use of research could not be placed at any one party's door. The industry needs to take collective responsibility, from marketers to agencies, media owners and other suppliers.
Mark Jakins, group sales and marketing director of the SABC, said that the value chain starts with the marketer, who defines the target market. The industry needs to examine each point along the communications value chain, and ensure there are no unintentional racist practices occurring at any stage.
He suggested the implementation of a transformation charter, which would be adopted and signed throughout this value chain, particularly by the dominant marketers in the industry. Starting with the marketer, to the advertising agency, to media planning and buying organisations, and concluding with the media owner - the communications industry would pledge its commitment to eliminating racial discrimination and racial targeting.
"We need to take a strong stance against racial discrimination in our industry, before government decides to regulate us," said Jakins. "We all have an obligation to South Africa to get the ball rolling, by aligning ourselves with a new marketing code of conduct - using updated SAARF segmentation techniques and tools uniquely designed to our special requirements for intelligent marketing decision-making.
"In addition, education and training for new entrants and existing personnel in the marketing industry is now even more vital than before," he said.
Looking back on the day's proceedings, panelist Terry Volkwyn, of Highveld Stereo and the NAB, said that SAARF's willingness to open itself up to public scrutiny was a positive move. "It was pleasing to see that we were able to talk about these issues, which will hopefully result in positive solutions going forward," she said. "There needs to be far more education and training in the industry as a whole to reach a positive solution in the long run, since simply removing the race question in research will not solve the problem that some of the media owners are facing."
Finally, Dr Haupt commented: "It is high time that the communications industry stops pretending that nothing is wrong. Instead of being defensive, we all need to openly discuss charges of racism. As we saw at the SAARF hearings, the open discussion of issues of racism is the best way to find solutions, see things from a new perspective, and demonstrate to government that we are committed to active transformation.
"I believe it also gave SAARF the opportunity to show its stakeholders that it is committed to delivering research products which suit the needs of all industries, while at the same time working to change misplaced perceptions about South African consumers."