Battling for the heart and mind of the media planner

By , agencyfaqs! | In | December 03, 2001
In the latest of a series of leadership spats, which seems to have cooled down for the time being, Outlook and The Week have been slugging it out on Mumbai's billboards

MUMBAI, December 03

In the tough world of leadership battles, tar is a favourite weapon. Tar your opponent, rubbish his statistics, and mock away. In the latest of a series of leadership spats, which seems to have cooled down for the time being, Outlook and The Week have been slugging it out on Mumbai's billboards.

The question is who leads in Mumbai.

The Outlook advertisement - "Outlook Outlook Outlook: Three Times bigger than the Weak in Mumbai" - claimed leadership in the city, based on National Readership Survey (NRS) figures between January to June 2 001. The Week claims the same in its advertisement, saying, "LookOutlookOut in Mumbai". Based on Audit Bureau of Circulation (ABC) figures for January to June 2001.

So who was right? Both were. Because they use divergent data to substantiate their claims. Comments Bharat Kapadia, managing editor and associate publisher, Chitralekha Group, "The fight is meaningless because they are quoting different figures." While the ABC measures the actual circulation of a paper or magazine, the readership survey looks at the perceived number of readers.

Yet, every tiny bit counts. Especially when there has been a clear slowdown in the Rs 4,350 crore-a-year print advertisement market. Circulation versus readership is a war that erupts periodically. Earlier, there was the Business Today-Businessworld war. That had a lot to do with the rules. The ABC rules exclude bulk sales exceeding 5 per cent of a publication's total net paid sales from being included in the circulation figure. The Delhi-based Businessworld which claimed to be the largest selling business magazine in India, saw its figures rubbished by the Living Media-owned Business Today, which, based on circulation figures, claims the same slot. BW, which sees most of its circulation - up to 90 per cent according to some estimates - come from newsstand sales, is quite unhappy. Naturally.

At the heart of the matter is perception. Do more people read the Outlook than The Week? Or Businessworld compared to Business Today? Does circulation translate into readership, or do more people read copies second-hand? Is the number of copies sold that form a magazine's circulation a good measure of its clout, as several publications like The Week and Business Today vociferously attest? And what should be the criteria of a media planner, precise circulation figures, or perceived readership figures?

The surveys do not help either. NRS and the IRS are based on samples, but the ABC is based on circulation figures that are submitted by the respective media houses. And, for its sample base, both the NRS and the IRS take into account the previous six months as well as the current six months. And come up with the figures. Some would argue that the ABC's circulation figures are as relevant to media planning today as the earlier survey of television households by the number of licenses issued. Or the even earlier mode, popular in the seventies, of trying to estimate how many television commercials equalled one month of pre-movie ads in the cinema?

While the advertising fraternity seems to be equally divided in their support of the two sets of data, what is evident is that every time the claimants have used the data according to their convenience.

Says Anand Shirali, marketing manager, Outlook, Western Region, "While circulation is one of the yardsticks of measurement popularity of any media vehicle, readership is the currency universally accepted and used in the media planning process. Whether in terms of circulation or readership, Outlook is far ahead of The Week, nationally. In Mumbai, in one ABC period, they (The Week) have gone ahead of us by a few copies whereas Outlook is three times more than The Week in readership in Mumbai." Avers B Krishnakumar, chief of bureau, The Week, Mumbai, "The Week is a magazine that stands on its own strength, and appeals to the reader on that basis."

One reason for the current tussles is history. Earlier, the readership figures came out once in a few years, while the ABC came out every six months. Now they both come out every six months. So, whenever any paper or magazine quotes either the ABC or the NRS, the figures quoted are those that favour the publication.

Like any other propaganda battle, perhaps what is interesting is what is left unsaid.

© 2001 agencyfaqs!