Based in London, Simon Atkinson is Assistant Chief Executive of Ipsos MORI.
For a brief moment, the wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton on 29th April was the global news event. It attracted a worldwide TV audience of more than two billion, received blanket coverage in the printed press, and was omnipresent on the web. Aside from wars, natural disasters and very major sporting occasions, it’s relatively unusual for one country – in this case Britain – to be so in the spotlight , albeit for a short period.
Looking back, six months on, some questions. First, did we learn anything new about Britain that we didn’t know already? Second, how close did we get to having a sense of what was happening on the ground over that weekend? This month we publish the findings of research, conducted in conjunction with Techneos, which we hope sheds some light on these questions. Click here to access the report.
The prevailing mood
We knew that the overarching mood in Britain was (still is) one of gloom, set against a backdrop of a sluggish economy, public sector spending cuts and squeezed living standards. Concern about the state of the economy had risen sharply, and was running at near-record levels. Meanwhile most Britons agree with Prime Minister David Cameron’s description of British society as “broken”. Indeed, if anything, the mood six months on is gloomier still, in the wake of the riots this summer and this Autumn’s European debt crisis.
By contrast, attitudes towards the monarchy are both stable and positive. It’s as good a case study as any of the value of the traditional opinion poll. We conduct a survey among a representative sample of people, and include some questions which have been asked previously, thereby providing some trends over time, while also including space for new questions. Our own pre-Wedding poll, commissioned by Reuters, found just 18% wanting to see Britain become a republic – a figure which is the most stable value measured in public opinion polling over the last 40 years. In 1969, Gallup found 19% favoured a republic, and, with just two or three exceptions, this figure has hovered at this level (plus or minus 3%) all this time. Put simply, anyone coming up with assertions or headlines along the lines of “the British people have had enough of the monarchy” is distinctly wide of the mark.
What was less clear, going into the holiday weekend, was whether people were actually that interested in the event itself. Our “social listening” to what was happening on line did not show a particularly high level of activity through most of April. “Royal Wedding a turn-off for Two in Three Britons”, reported one newspaper on 5 April. And in our own Ipsos MORI poll, conducted in the middle of the month, 61% of men said they were “not interested” in the Wedding. Did these assessments prove accurate? What really happened?
The “Big Weekend”
Our project with Techneos centred on capturing what people were saying, and what they were doing. As the weekend started, the chatter grew louder, soon running at ten times the level of the previous weekend. It’s a reminder, if one were needed, of how we must look at the broader context when interpreting poll findings: “They said x, but what else was going on at the time?”
Similarly, we know that people like to express themselves, and to tell others about what they are doing, as witnessed by their love of Facebook, Twitter, etc. We therefore developed an approach to harness this willingness to share within a structured research design, an approach facilitated by technology which has been available to us only recently. We did this by recruiting a cross-section of people, inviting them to download a research app developed by Techneos, and “put them to work”. Through a series of structured and semi-structured questionnaires, spontaneous text message-style “Royal Wedding moments”, photos and GIS location data, we built a rich picture of what was actually happening, from the perspectives of almost 300 multi-tasking participants. Looking back, we are not sure we would have got as close to events had we been polling continuously or doing “instant reaction” focus groups. We found:
As researchers, this project has been a reminder that, the more we can be “in the right place, at the right time”, the better our chances will be of having a rounded view of what motivates consumers, and how they behave. Similarly, against a backdrop of periodic criticisms about the nature and number of questions market researchers sometimes ask, it underlines the importance of keeping things interesting and relevant. A well crafted opinion poll can do this. So can taking advantage of people’s willingness to share experiences and their love of their mobile phones. An example, which some would say the British Royal Family is also following, of why a careful blend of the old with the new can often bring enduring benefits.
ESOMAR Conference: 3D Digital Dimensions 2011 (Online + Social Media + Mobile) Research
Miami/ 26-28 October 2011
October 28th, 2011