Sending the Right Signals: The Semiotics of Market Research Agencies

This latest issue of Asia Research reports on the projected and perceived image(s) of the market research industry and its major players, from the perspective of employees (and prospective employees), but what image are they projecting to the outside world?

Out of curiosity, I took a look at a number of their global websites. The aim of this exercise? To find out what their websites reveal about what these companies want to project. Whether this is deliberate or not has not been confirmed.


\"TheThe Ipsos homepage presents, in the top bar, the Ipsos name in pure white. It rests against a background that is a combination of a ‘professional’ navy blue (or is it purple?) and another more dominant shade of a ‘refreshing’ cyan colour. This same cyan is used across much of their landing page. Next to the logo is the slogan ‘Nobody’s unpredictable’ in solid black. Are Ipsos positioning themselves as the Guru archetype? I found that the front-page content is very self-focused and status driven; not surprising as status is a defining aspect of French culture.

This landing page is very text heavy, which results in its not being the easiest to navigate. Overall, it reflects what one might call a ‘corporate’ mindset.

Clicking through into the ‘Who we are’ section to try and learn more about their business, I discovered that Ipsos proclaims themselves to be ‘The home of researchers’, among other similar claims.

The language used here and throughout their site continues the ‘guru’ and ‘status’ themes, with a strong focus on the company’s credibility as a research provider.

Their text includes the following attention-grabbing phrases: ‘high standards’, ‘most effectively’, ‘controlled and operated by market researchers’, ‘intellectually curious’, ‘areas of specialisation’, ‘proud and pleased’ (used twice), ‘high quality standards’ and ‘efficiency and intelligence’.

The dominant and controlling Ruler seems to be combined with the Guru here.

Millward Brown

\"TheIn contrast to Ipsos’ chosen colours, the Millward Brown logo combines forest green and olive. One wonders if this is meant to signal that they are simultaneously professional, fresh and down to earth? The website’s homepage initially appears to be much simpler and more visual (it was dominated by a large pictorial link to their digital and media predictions for 2013 when I looked), although more text and details are uncovered as you page down, complete with links to key content, blogs and published reports and data.

Clicking on the ‘About’ tab to find more about the company, one finds that the key word is ‘brand’ (mentioned nine times in three paragraphs by my count), and supplemented by a picture of ‘real’ people (the senior management perhaps?).

Interestingly, Millward Brown is the only one of the four main agencies whose websites I checked out who has some focus on clients in their external communication. The language used throughout their webpages reflects this, describing how Millward Brown have helped their clients, sharing their heritage and expertise as ‘brand consultants’ with a dash of ‘people’ and ‘passion’ along the way.

Perhaps Millward Brown combines the uniqueness and authenticity of an Explorer with the wisdom of Ipsos’s Guru?


\"TheNielsen’s logo in light blue and grey, cleanly placed amidst comparatively more white space than the others, perhaps communicates values of stability and intelligence. The front page has a very different feel from Ipsos’ and Millward Brown’s, and it provides a listing of all the countries where they have offices. It also displays the slogan, ‘A world of insights: get connected’. The initial impression is that it has been designed to suggest a combination of knowledge and equality.

Clicking through to the Singapore site, one finds generic people pictures (of people who are decidedly not Singaporean) atop the page along with the headline ‘integrating information’. This is followed by much similar language in the scattering of phrases like: ‘complete view’, ‘better understanding’, ‘combined insights, experience, knowledge’ and ‘market intelligence’.

Although the top of the homepage is generic, the newsfeed on the left of the page is safely Singapore-specific with a series of news articles from Nielsen on the local (Singapore) market.

On the whole, Nielsen communicates a mixture of Guru and Everyman in their focus on knowledge and local connection.


\"TheMoving on to TNS, the first thing that catches the eye is their unique logo design. The bright pink colour has a whimsical and vibrant feel which is very different from other agencies’ choices. The front page is dominated by a slideshow of visual advertisements, one of which proclaims, “We are TNS”, and then “Delivering precise plans to help our clients grow”. The other pages talk about mobile technology, the commitment economy, a ‘growth summit’ and shopper research. As with most other agencies, the agency comes before the client here.

Clicking through the site to find out more about why ‘We are TNS’, I found that the ‘Who we are’ page is very focused on the size and importance of the company. It makes reference to the Kantar group, global presence, management structure and corporate social responsibility, with clients finally getting a mention at the bottom of the page—and only the ones that TNS are ‘proud to work with’.

Overall, the TNS website reflects a corporate concern with status and control. Does this make TNS the Rulers of the market research world? Their external communication suggests that they would like to think so.


In summary, it appears that the values communicated by the big four agencies through their websites share a common theme of knowledge and understanding best summarised by the Guru archetype. Each company mixes this with different motivations including status, authenticity, connection and control. However, my one recommendation to all of them would be to show a little more humility and client focus in the way they communicate through their public face.