Leslie Wood, Nielsen Catalina Solutions’ chief research officer, recently claimed the Advertising Research Foundation’s (ARF) 2019 Erwin Ephron Demystification Award. But rather than looking back, WARC’s Geoffrey Precourt learned, she is very much focused on the future.

“There’s no way this is a lifetime achievement award,” Leslie Wood told a friend as she walked to the auditorium where she would receive the Advertising Research Foundation’s (ARF) 2019 Erwin Ephron Demystification Award.

“I’m not done yet. Not by a long shot. There’s still too much to do.”

Moments later, the perpetually youthful Wood would be saluted by friends and colleagues – they seem to be interchangeable in the case of the chief research office at Nielsen Catalina Solutions (NCS) – who would laud her deep involvement in single-source methodologies, her innovations at the leading edge of marketing and advertising effectiveness, her deep love for family, and her weekend cross-discipline skills as an electrician and plumber.

As such, she was a deserving recipient of this year’s Demystification Award. Ephron was a perpetually curious pioneer and legendary influencer in media planning who championed the concept of “recency”, which proposed that media planning shouldn’t look to overwhelm audiences but, instead, look to reach consumers when they were most likely to be receptive to a brand’s advertising message.

Ephron, who died in 2013, was celebrated not just for his insight but the charm and wit he brought to his work. (Two illustrative quotes: “Advertising is too often like buying a melon where you have to spend the money to find out if it’s any good.” “Frequency is crabgrass.”) Wood’s intelligence, style, and humor are all but a perfect match to Ephron’s contagious grace and cachet.

Wood told the 550 ARF conference registrants, “I feel so blessed to get this award” and recalled “meeting Erwin for many meals at small Italian restaurants in the Village. So, this is an award that really comes full circle.

“What Erwin was able to do was capture the essence of an idea and bring it to the industry. He understood the importance of taking research and culling it to a simple idea – an understandable nugget – that could be used across the industry.

“It was a really big lesson for me,” she continued. “I learned that I could do research that was groundbreaking, but it was worthless unless people understood it.”

Wood recognized that marketing research “has a lot of unsolved problems” and, instead of reciting a list of accomplishments from a career she is far from finishing, the NCS research chief used her moment in the spotlight to look ahead.

The process began with “about five or six ideas that I want to work on.” But she fleshed out and refined that list by checking with clients, friends, and fellow researchers about what they identified as problems that still need to be solved.

And she presented her findings – in a series of those “understandable nuggets” – to the ARF conference delegates:

  • Targeting: “The world is getting more and more concerned about privacy, while targeting is getting more accurate and efficient. No one wants to see endless commercials for products they aren’t interested in. How do we reconcile these dichotomies to actually do a great job?

    “To spin that idea even further: How do you do that across platforms, publishers, and media to deliver the highest reach to just the right people?”
  • Cross-Media: Sorin Patilinet, director of Mars Inc.’s Center of Expertise for Marketing Communications, “asked me: ‘How can we measure cross-media ROI [return on investment] across all media channels, including walled gardens?’” Wood said.

    “I would expand that thought. How can we measure true incrementality across portals, publishers and media, even though many publishers are reluctant to do so?”
  • Creative: “I would love to figure out how to provide insights to creative teams on how each piece of their creative works.

    “We know how to measure the sales lift of creative to separate creative from media – but how do we share those insights with the people who make creative?

    “I imagine that if we had a reel of creative that worked really well for a category, as well a reel of examples that failed, creative directors would be able to translate that difference into better work.”
  • Balance: “How do we balance the short term with the long term? How do we balance the results from [broader] mix with the results from single source? How do we balance targeting with building equity?”
  • Consumer: “We know the best advertising makes people believe the brand makes them a better person. We know that using the brand signifies who the consumer wants to be. But how do we help advertisers achieve this more often?

    “Consumers want to feel cared for and listened to. But, in their attempts to use technology to solve this, many brands and agencies have focused too heavily on targeting and not enough on ensuring that their message works for their audience.

    “The result is many consumers feeling like they’re bombarded by meaningless messages. The future of effective targeting won’t just focus on reaching the right audience, but on sharing the right message with them.

    “And that message needs to be powerful, yet sensitive, to their needs as consumers.”
  • Brand: “My friends at the Advertising Research Federation” – among them, Jim Spaeth, Jim Figura, Jim Donius, Bill Harvey, and Bob Shullman – “asked, ‘What is a ‘brand’ in a consumer-direct world?

    “One answer is that equity will matter more than ever. But other questions include: Who is the competition? What happens when we remove the role of distribution? What is the role of marketing?

    “If you aren’t a brand, you are a commodity. Commodities have no profit. And when there isn’t profit, there is no product innovation.

    “Advertising is directly connected to driving equity, which drives profit and innovation.”