The Unbelievable Truth – hosting a conference quiz

Recently I was asked to chair a session at the Media Research Group (MRG) conference in Warsaw.  The delegates, I was told, will be tired after a long day travelling from London and after sitting through several conference papers.  So, I was asked to run my session as a lighthearted quiz.  

I’d done similar at a London evening meeting of the MRG where I’d adopted the format of Room 101.  However, in Warsaw I borrowed from the Radio 4 quiz The Unbelievable Truth, a format that asks contestants to lie outrageously and others to identify the truths.  

I had four contestants and asked them to each make a five minute address in which they talked about 5 ‘facts’ from their own research.  The contestants were researchers from Facebook, ITV, Kantar and the media agency PHD so their research was sure to be of interest. However, one of the five ‘facts’ in each address was a lie.  Could the bleary eyed audience spot the fake?  I also gave my own five minute address and here it is.  Can you spot my fake? (answer at the end).


Hello MRG – let me tell you about some of the research Neil Sharman Ltd has been up to since we last conferenced together.

Firstly I worked with Route Research Ltd. All their respondents carry GPS enabled devices.

We looked at how the nation commutes. We laid out the lengths of commutes of each respondent and created a bell curve. There’s a bulk of people with average commutes and fewer with very short or very long commutes. What was interesting though was a nick in the bell curve at 35 minutes – which rather ruined the shape.

The reason, it seems, is that commuters dash for the line, aiming to get into work at 30 minutes, a psychological barrier. So, there’s an absence of arrivals at 35 minutes. What’s more, we discovered a law called Marchetti’s Constant that tells us people in different societies and through history have had an ideal travel to work time of 30 minutes. A longer commute can be a drag and we try hard to shave time off.

TRUTH ONE: So, Route data shows a nick in the commute time bellcurve at 35 minutes which is proof of Marchetti’s Constant in Route data.

Commutes are also interesting to The Evening Standard.

According to the Cebr, TRUTH TWO: One in five mCommerce occasions now take place whilst commuting. Advertisers should take note: such Commuter Commerce is, according to Cebr, already worth £9bn.

At ESI I’ve launched research called The Evening Catch that breaks down commuter commerce spend by advertising category.

Commuting is one form of travelling and flying on business is another. A smoother link between topics you’d be hard pressed to find!

I was commissioned to write a report for JCDecaux Airport on SME business flyers.

I worked with Millward Brown to send a questionnaire to a sample of 500 business flyers from SME companies across a mix of industries. They were senior decision makers in their businesses. With Brexit on the horizon I asked them what Brexit might do to their business.

TRUTH THREE: UK SME business flyers told me Brexit is good for their business

The proportion saying Brexit would be good for their business was 43%. The proportion saying Brexit would be bad for their business was 29%.

Now SME business people are people and young people are people and young people are called millennials. That a less smooth link between topics.

But it allows me to talk about a research project that I led for Metro and MailOnline. Millennial Rules.

Charlotte Pilgrim of Metro will tell us more about it later in the week but I can tell you a finding from the questionnaire served by Alligator Research to 1,001 Millennials and Generation X’ers.

TRUTH FOUR: 49% of millennials feel they are empowered by their tech know-how to do a better job at work than people with more experience but only average technological know-how.

That’s a bold claim, isn’t it? If you’re sitting out there with a lot of experience plus average technical know how it isn’t good enough to hold off the threat from almost half of all digital natives. Be afraid.

And finally…

Millennials are people but robots aren’t! Another seamless link as I switch topics.

I’m also switching out of media for a moment as I’m now going to tell you about a project I did for another client, Travelzoo.

The project was robots in the travel industry. Robots are already working in the travel industry already – but how likely are we humans to accept them?

I ran a multi country study using Norstat. The questionnaire went to people who book travel online in each of the UK, France, Germany, Spain, America, Canada, Japan, China and Brazil.

In it we asked people about scenarios, such as this. Imagine you’re checking in at a hotel in a different country. The receptionist is human and very competent.

Now imagine you’re at the same hotel and the receptionist is a robot. The robot is very competent. Which do you prefer?

OK, most people preferred the competent human, of course.

Then we asked them to compare a competent robot to a less competent human, which do you prefer? You can start testing what people can stomach.

We did the same for waiters and bar staff, security staff, cabin crew and several other job functions. A surprising stat was this.

TRUTH FIVE: In the comparison between the competent human waiter and the competent robot waiter, the Chinese actually preferred the robot. The ratio was 58% versus 42%

And that’s it. The end of my whistle stop tour of Neil Sharman projects since MRG Berlin but did I bamboozle and confuse – or did you see through me like a one-way mirror in a focus group?







Answer:  The lie was ‘truth’ four.  The real figure was a much bigger 75%

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