About Me

John Fahy is the Professor of Marketing in the University of Limerick and Adjunct Professor of Marketing at the University of Adelaide. He is an award winning author and speaker on marketing issues around the world.

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What's Your Opinion on Polls?

With election season ramping up in more than one country at the moment you will be hearing plenty about opinion polls as they are gathered, published, dissected and discussed over the coming weeks and months. But just how good are they and what is their track record in predicting what voters actually do?


In short, opinion polls often get it right but they also frequently get it badly wrong. The most recent case in point was last year’s British General Election. In the six months running up to that vote, a total of 230 opinion polls of voters were conducted by a variety of research organisations and published in a range of media outlets. The overall trends in the polls are shown below and from about mid-March onwards we see something of a dead heat emerging between the two main parties, the Conservatives and Labour. Of the last twenty polls taken before that election featuring voter samples ranging from 1,001 to over 18,000 people, eight predicted a tie while a further seven gave either side a one per cent lead. Every indication pointed to a really tight race but the actual outcome was a comfortable win for the Tories.



The results of the obligatory inquiry into this failure were published last month. It found that the probable cause was an under-representation of certain groups of voters such as over-70s, under 30s and ‘busy’ voters in certain types of polls that were conducted. Carried out on behalf the British Polling Council – an organisation with a major vested interest here, a methodological failure was probably the lesser of two evils, though an inability to construct representative samples is a pretty damming criticism. The more significant issue of course is that opinion polls in particular and market research more generally are very poor at predicting what consumers will actually do at some future point for a whole variety of psychological reasons. So enjoy all the prediction and discussion and let’s see if anyone can call it correctly this time!


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There May Be Life In Those Old Products Yet!

So Xtra-vision finally succumbed to the harsh realities of life in the DVD rental business with the closure of its operations in Ireland last week and the loss of 580 jobs. But perhaps the most interesting aspect of this event was that it took so long to come to pass. Video/DVD rental has been on life support for over two decades now and twenty years is a long time in any business.



Xtra-vision was a company with a chequered history. Founded by an ex-courier, Richard Murphy, the fledgling company opened its first store in 1980. Murphy had a flair for doing things differently and with a team of attractive young ladies in short skirts getting the publicity, he quickly grew the business which went public in 1989 and saw its share price quickly double. At the peak of its powers, the company had 317 stores in Ireland, the UK and the US. But when it became apparent that the shelf life of a video was much less than the estimated 30 months, sentiment toward Xtra-vision quickly changed and its stock fell like a stone. The company changed hands several times throughout the next two decades, even surviving examinership in 2011 before finally succumbing to the inevitable last week.


In spite of its roller coaster ride and the obvious challenges to its business model, Xtra-vision was still generating a very respectable sales volume of €85m in 2012, half of it coming from movie rental and sales and half from games and music. It even managed to outlive a much more efficiently run (and one-time owner) global video rental company – Blockbuster which collapsed in 2010. Its survival was no doubt helped by the slow pace of making the prospect of video on demand over the Internet a reality – it was 2007 before Netflix began to offer this service. So even in declining industries, returns can be healthy and persist for many years. But when the inevitable death comes it is usually swift. Xtra-vision sales fell to €38.5m last year and there was no coming back from that.


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