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ARF outlines new strategic agenda

News, 17 March 2017

NEW YORK: The Advertising Research Foundation (ARF) is aiming to champion conceptual clarity, tackle major industry issues and advance marketing as a science, according to Scott McDonald, President/CEO of the organisation.

McDonald, who was appointed to lead the ARF earlier this month having spent 14 years as Condé Nast's SVP/Research, suggested the need for rigour across the marketing ecosystem was greater than ever.

"It's a critically important time for the media and advertising industries, partly because of the degree of technological change that's been introduced," he said. (For more details, read Warc's exclusive report: McDonald identifies new roles for ARF.)

"There's been at least a doubling of the number of consumer touchpoints that are available to marketers, many of which don't involve media at all."

Elaborating on this topic, McDonald argued these new touchpoints have fundamentally altered what is meant by the term "audience".

Previously, this notion applied to people who saw a TV show, film or print article in the same media context – a definition that has now been significantly extended. "'Audience' now ends up being one of those loaded terms," he said.

With uncertainty surrounding this concept, and other core tenets of the evolving brand-building playbook, the ARF's role includes providing a heightened sense of clarity.

"Our job is to lead, not only in advocating quality of research, but also in trying to encourage conceptual clarity that makes it easier for all participants – media companies, ad agencies, advertisers and research companies – to be clear about where they're operating, which questions are being addressed, and how not to confuse things," McDonald said.

Since assuming his new role, McDonald has used the analogy of Switzerland – a strong, unallied entity – as a metaphor for the role of the ARF, which holds its 2017 Annual Conference in New York next week, in the practice of marketing.

"We are a member organisation. But given its tradition, it needs to be neutral, but also bring science in to elevate the discussion and make [marketing] as fact-based and empirical as possible," he said.

"In that way, we can try to resolve some issues and move on to the next issue in the same cumulative way you advance any scientific endeavour. Part of the new ARF agenda will be to determine where there are opportunities to do that kind of building.

"Some of that can evolve by building on [research by] – and working with – other organisations that are working on the same sort of problems."

Data sourced from Warc