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Friday, September 21, 2007

Taking the devil out of the detail...

Part of the skill of ad research lies in getting respondents to look beyond the executional details of (often pretty ‘representative’!) stimulus to the underlying idea that will really make the finished ad. But as I’ve seen over the course of three weeks fieldwork in Ukraine, Croatia and Russia, seemingly innocent executional details can mean a lot more to a brand’s target audience than is sometimes realised… So in the particular ads we were researching for a well know global financial services provider (not Northern Rock!), the setting, the situation, the item purchased or the assumed relationship between characters could all have an effect on how they were understood. So what may have been a regular box of chocolates to a creative became a luxury item to a Russian consumer… an ad set in a Chinese restaurant sparked discussions as to what sort of person would go there and as such who the ad was aimed at… a fast paced as became a comment on the speed of a service… Not necessarily bad messages to be getting through but unintended and, more importantly, obscuring the actual intended communication. In this case, the search for meanings in the finer detail of an ad can be put down partly to lesser market maturity and product penetration - people are seeking reassurance about products and services that they are still getting used to. But we feel that there are also cultural forces at play… in our experience of research in Eastern Europe we have often come across this more rational interpretation of ads (we will leave the anthropological musings as to why for another post!). It is the core idea that is ultimately going to make or break an ad. With any luck (or some solid research in the early stages of ad development!) other details can help to explain that idea. But just as often they do exactly the opposite and actually obscure communication. And the more that is going on in an ad, the more room there is for misinterpretation. The devil really can be in the detail… if you want to avoid misunderstanding then it pays to focus on the core truth and beyond that try to keep things simple!

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Research Supports Creativity Shocker Pt II

Yet another example of research supporting a creative endeavour...who would have thought that this year's Oscar winner'The Lives of Others' found a distributor with the help of research. Even more amazingly, the director has said so publicly! Unsung heroes no more...

Friday, September 14, 2007

Consumers and Big Apes

As I was saying…it's been a busy summer…and we had some fascinating international projects on … for example eaves dropping on Indian men talking about friendship and marriage, Croats about their finances, Russian women about their bodies… But judging by the reactions of YouTube, the marketing blogs and press and even the mainstream press, the most exciting project we were involved in was back in Blighty ie researching the Fallon/Cadbury Gorilla ad. It's the sort of thing nobody would expect to 'make it' through research - bold, genre breaking for chocolate, completely different for the brand. Don't the detractors of qual research tell us about the conservatism of group respondents, their lack of imagination etc? But hey, here's qual groups vindicated, with a bit of sensitive moderation group respondents were generally quite capable of appreciating Gorilla and its creative idea and imagining the ad as quirkily humorous, joyful and uplifting, brilliantly different, something that would be a talking point! Well, as far as I'm concerned there's a couple of learnings here…first of all, consumers can actually be more imaginative and happy to embrace the new than some people expect…but ad moderation needs to be sensitive and adapted to what you're actually researching. If you're looking at an idea that's approaching branded entertainment, it tends to help an awful lot to set the scene in a reasonably 'naturalistic' way - ie have consumers imagine they're in their living rooms, switching on the TV after work and then - 'this comes on your screen' rather than loading the dice and setting conventional expectations by telling them they're about to watch an ad. It's just a wee trick but it can really avoid over-rational disappointment at a lack of product information. At the same time it's worth appreciating that some folk are more literal-minded and conservative than others - some consumers need a campaign, an idea to seed - and to gain cultural buzz - before they start appreciating it. This can be partially addressed in the groups - by exposing different campaign elements, 'fake' PR coverage, by lightening the mood with projectives and creative games. Sometimes it also helps simply to counter overly literal posturing by asking whether they'd really take ads quite so seriously in real life… In the final instance though the onus is still on analysis and interpretation. This can mean that that we may downweight the reactions of more laggard and conservative respondents to ground-breaking ideas, considering that at least some of them are likely to catch on once the ad goes 'live' . There are no hard and fast rules as to how we do this or by how much - experience in ad research will tell us. And of course, an experienced client will know how much alienation his brand can and should take!

Thursday, September 13, 2007

More on Neurocharlatans

Back to normal after a long and strangely hectic summer…before we return with some more meaty entries - let me draw your attention to an article in Adage (found the reference on Mark Earl's blog) on one of my pet subjects - neuro-charlatanerie. Also for those who read German (I know, not many), have a look at this article in Die Zeit explaining how the pretty pictures of the brain showing areas that 'light up' during a certain activity come into being…Turns out that they are actually models/constructs based on statistical calculations projected on two dimensional drawings, not as one is led to believe, 'real' photographic evidence of what is going on in the brain. Funny that that one isn't better known… Anyway, I wish I could share Mark Earl's optimism that 'this nonsense is about to run its course'. Would be nice but my guess is that it will indeed 'expand like crazy' (as one of the proponents says in the Adage article) when/if the costs of technical equipment go down. Science on the one hand too complex to understand for the average marketer, on the other offering pretend-certainty and as such opportunity to cover decision-makers' backsides seems to offer quite a powerful combination…