WPP’s Kantar buys online panels firm Global Market Insite to add to Lightspeed offer

US-based Global Market Insite might not be able to spell but that hasn’t stopped WPP’s Kantar research division shelling out somewhere north of $26m to buy the company that operates online panels in North America, Europe and the Far East.

WPP says it will be ‘aligned’ with Lightspeed Research which does roughly the same things.

WPP goes on: “This investment continues WPP’s strategy of investing in fast-growing markets and sectors and further strengthening it’s the capabilities of Kantar, which is one of the world’s largest insight, information and consultancy groups. Kantar companies work across 100 countries and across the whole spectrum of research and consultancy disciplines, enabling the group to offer clients business insights at each and every point of the consumer cycle. The group’s services are employed by over half of the Fortune Top 500 companies.”

Kantar, headed by Eric Salama (pictured), is an interesting outfit, now accounting for about 25 per cent of WPP’s revenues (advertising and media buying make up 40 per cent) despite showing only sluggish organic growth since the contentious acquisition of the UK’s TNS research giant for £1.1bn in 2008.

One the one hand WPP via Kantar is competing with conventional research rivals like Nielsen and Ipsos (which recently bought Synovate from Aegis for £530m). On the other it’s competing with the likes of Google in the global information land grab stakes, instanced by its recent formation of consumer database operation Xaxis.

There’s also the question of where digital fits into all this. GMI and Lightspeed could be as easily defined as digital business as research (or consumer insight as WPP prefers to call it). At the moment digital (which WPP rather confusingly says accounts for 40 per cent of its business) is spread across all its historic activities – advertising, media buying, research, branding, healthcare and PR.

Down the line an issue for WPP CEO Sir Martin Sorrell (or his successor) might be whether or not ‘consumer insight’ and advertising might be better for shareholders as two businesses. Sorrell would say that the consumer insight gives his agencies an invaluable edge.

Shareholders might say that two separate businesses would be more valuable to them.

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About Stephen Foster

Stephen is a former editor of Marketing Week and London Evening Standard advertising columnist. He wrote City Republic for Brand Republic and is a partner in communications consultancy The Editorial Partnership.