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Tuesday, 02 September 2014

Why research has to change to be of real use to the creative industry

From: Live from Cannes Lions

On the final day of Cannes there was an inspirational speech from two creative heavyweights, Sir John Hegarty of BBH and Dan Wieden of Wieden & Kennedy.

The speech was a whistle-stop tour of some of their best campaigns from the last 30 years, including work for Levi’s, Xbox, Nike and Old Spice, to name a few.

Wieden went on to present his recent Old Spice campaign paying particular attention to the bit where the hero character reacts directly to messages via social media and creates personalised video responses. Hegarty stated that this was exactly the type of freedom that creatives need in their work: the ability to react without having to research their ideas.

It is clear that research – or “f*****g research” as it was referred to more than once on stage – is still perceived as the enemy of the creative industry.

We at Tuned In were at the festival to challenge this perception. We have worked directly with creative directors before, and to great effect – helping to co-create a Cannes-winning campaign with Proximity London for the RNLI.

The issue is, as researchers, we often find ourselves testing creative in a focus group scenario, which is very much out of context. No wonder creatives hate it. We believe that there are much better ways to have research feed into the creative process and – dare I say it – even inspire it.

During his speech Wieden showcased his new campaign for P&G to run during the Olympics, which celebrates the role of mums. It is well worth a look as it’s a highly emotive piece of creative that actually resulted in widespread, instantaneous applause around the auditorium. The ad shows the journey that mums go on with their children and depicts those special moments in their development, culminating in grown-up sons and daughters winning gold at the Olympics with proud mums looking on.

How could research have played a role in the development of this campaign? We could, for example, have challenged mums to recount the real-life stories of the pivotal moments in the development of their children. I would argue that this would best be done within a community environment, where the debate could evolve over time to find the most emotive scenarios. With relevance and authenticity so high on the agenda, this type of approach could add significantly to the impact of the creative.

Another way of aiding the process is to substitute the type of focus group testing that is so prevalent and look at other ways of gauging reactions to concepts. Some of the most powerful feedback that we have received is that ideas are fragile at their earliest stage and that they need space to grow, develop and evolve. Again, we find communities are the best way to aid this iterative process.

So rather than move straight into testing we can instead develop ‘creative experiments’ – ways to expose consumers to very early creative ideas. We can see how engaged they are with concepts based on the amount of additional content they create. We can see how they interact with ideas rather than just ask them questions. This allows us to provide insight at the earliest stages of development, which is where it is often most valuable.

What is clear, though, is that in order to be truly useful to the wider creative community, we researchers need to be working harder to find ways to aid the creative process, rather than kill it. 

Readers' comments (7)

  • If creative types feel that research is an enemy that kills their ideas they are obviously using the wrong research agencies and don't understand the benefits and limitations of good research. Used correctly market research can help improve a concept by uncovering additional (and perhaps better angles) and by identifying ambiguities which might prevent the concept from working to its full effect.
    A good moderator will not be looking to squash an idea but to treat it sympathetically and will know when to take comments seriously and when to take them with a pinch of salt. Let's face it nobody is infallible and many of the creatives I have worked with have embraced research as another source of information that helps them better understand their target market and as a resut, produce better ads.

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  • This is a great little piece highlighting that often it is the guys at the top with a powerful voice who are understandably but unfortunately distant from the work on the ground. This means they are rarely exposed to the new and exciting opportunities and techniques that are arising in fields adjacent to their own which results in them making generalisations as mentioned above. It's our job to shout louder about the great stuff that is happening in the industry.

    Our team have recently embraced the power of online community as part of our research program and are already seeing it's power and potential in delivering fresh insight that makes us feel really close to our consumer. These are in fact exciting times.

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  • On reading this my mind made a slightly leftfield - and therefore appropriate to this theme - connection with an article I read recently in the New Scientist. It explored the potential of the 'wandering mind' (as opposed to the focused mind) for creative problem solving and could be explored more fully to provide the types of insight these clients value. It's this type of innovation I intend to cover more in my blog - http://www.mrs.org.uk/blog

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  • I think the concluding paragraph of this unique article highlights some critical issues facing the research world that we've never heard before...Well worth the expenditure of a trip to Cannes to pick this nugget of insight up.

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  • "Research inspiring the creative process"? Brave and valid - but this needs careful consideration. I question that research can ever become the generator of creative ad concepts - that is what the bearded creative types are paid for! In fact, for me, ad testing is a minefield for research, often done at the behest of clients rather than agencies and therefore instinctively something the agency will resist. Too often, I have seen results massaged to appease the agency and avoid offending the fragile egos of the creative. I do not agree that is simply a question of technique (groups vs communities vs etc...) A better suggestion perhaps - is to step back from the creative process entirely, and to develop techniques that immerse the client and planner in the life of the customer, giving them access to MOTs that can be translated into great creative ideas, but steer well clear of trying to tell a creative how to do their job - hence the less than favourable references to researchers! The best insights into advertising often do not come from advertising research!

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  • what Doug is talking about is the ability of a community based development process to amplify ideas. If the goal of the research is to 'test' the idea then its not surprrising that what you get out of such research is a pass/fail - least worst system that kills interesting ideas before they have had a chance to grow. It would be interesting to see what difference it would make if the client's brief and budget were rerouted through the creative department to select and approve the best way that research could support the creative work by improving it and not operating as a bizarre variant of natural (or should that be unnatural?) selection.

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  • It is interesting that the creative agency holding companies are buying up research companies by the dozens. Research is growing faster than their traditional businesses which possible reflects the high relative value clients place on it. Why?

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