It was in January, 2014 that the IRS 2013 data was finally released, but within hours it drew flak from the publishers since they were not happy with the numbers and started pointing out anomalies.
The blame game and the ensuing chaos led MRUC (Media Research Users Council) to put the data in abeyance and order a revalidation. Finally on August 20, 2014, the data was released for usage after a joint declaration from MRUC, ABC (Audit Bureau of Circulation), INS (Indian Newspapers Society) and the RSCI (Readership Studies Council of India). However, did they leave it too late?
It took nearly eight months for all the bodies to agree to the IRS 2013 numbers. In the meantime, a large part of 2014 is gone, important decisions have been taken and marketing budgets have been decided. So, is the IRS of any importance to marketers now. We quizzed marketers across the categories to understand their views.
A lot needs to be done in getting the methodology right to know what the real story is. But in the absence of anything else, IRS 2013 should work as some sort of data that helps marketers plan their media spends, especially those who are print heavy.
We run print campaigns for specific markets for which we do not look at the IRS data. Marketers were definitely upset because the data was not there for most of the year. People had the same issue when TAM was missing and many advertisers got off.
Having said that, marketers will use IRS 2013 as a guideline as it is better to rely on certain data than what publications claim.
Arvind Vohra, India head, Gionee
The point is that when something does not happen for too long, and you are totally basing your decision on it, you cannot do scientific planning around it. And 20 months is a long time for any survey to be out.
The point is that if you believe in the IRS, you go with the recommendation. If not, you do not. We have not been using too much of media affected by IRS and have been mostly on digital. However, now we are planning to use it and we will be mostly going by gutfeel.
To decide on the media that you want to take, you meet 3-4 people and discount a certain percentage from whatever they tell you and then take your own call. Any survey is just a guiding factor.
Sumit Joshi, senior director, marketing, Philips Lighting India
The IRS saga has been pretty sad. As marketers we have been using it for years but this time when it was questioned by the media fraternity and other stakeholders and the IRS data was withheld, it raised questions in the minds of marketers.
The good part is that the controversy is over and the bodies stand by their data. But the year is getting over and the media decisions and budgets are decided so I don't know what impact it will have.
There is no reliable replacement for IRS today. It is the only third party source and we need to have a tool to talk to the publications. The IRS is a good tool to figure out how we could have done more using the same media. Now that the controversy is over, we can negotiate with publishers and discuss what they are doing to increase their footprint. But IRS bodies will have to do more now, to create credibility.
Samar Singh Sheikhawat, senior vice-president, marketing, United Breweries
The overall situation is not a nice one. However, this is not new. Media buying and selling will be a combination of the publication's reputation and new IRS numbers.
No marketer can neglect a publication's reputation. As marketers, we map the presence, readership, preference and then base our decisions aligning it with the brand requirement.
I think the responsibility of bringing this change in the robustness of the IRS numbers and better sampling is on the agency. They need to refresh the criteria and panels for any research. Clients, agencies and monitoring agencies need to join hands and create a co-funded programme that will ensure more data availability, scientific methods of calculation and better interpretation and sharply-focused numbers, especially considering how the media is changing and being consumed today.