FEATURE24 December 2015

2015 Review: the biggest disappointments

AI Features Trends

2015 was undeniably a difficult year for pollsters, but who — or what — else did our panel of reviewers pick among the biggest disappointments of the last 12 months?


Let’s get the obvious one out of the way first. Many have highlighted the high profile failure of most polling companies to correctly predict the outcome of May’s General Election as this year’s biggest let-down.

“For me it was the failure of all the pollsters to accurately predict the outcome of the General Election. Although this was a surprise, it has presented the opportunity for pollsters to work together to review and refresh the industry’s approach to political polling in the digital age, and I think that can only mean progress. The next big test will be in the European Union referendum, and all eyes will be on the winners and losers in that particular context.” Andrew Wiseman, MD, ICM Limited.

“You can’t get past the polling inaccuracies.” Christian Dubreuil, MD, Northern Europe, Research Now.

“Seasoned pollsters getting it wrong when it came to the UK elections, and of course the inaccurate, poorly designed ‘1 in 5 Muslims’ survey!” Dan Stracey, chief inspiration officer, Dub.

Other than that, there was little agreement. Some nominations were technology-focused:

“For me, it’s been the same disappointment I’ve had every year for the last five years. That we are STILL trying to make surveys workable on mobile phones. We’ve had ten years of “This is the year of mobile!” which means ten years of knowing what we ought to do. I think 2015 finally turned out to be the year of mobile, especially when you see that about a third of surveys are answered on a cell phone, nearly half of the US has no landline, and PEW will now conduct their telephone surveys based on 65% mobile devices.” Annie Pettit, chief research officer, Peanut Labs.

“Google Glass. It’s a shame they ‘failed’ as I enjoyed looking a bigger prat wearing them.” Joe Staton, strategic innovation director, GfK.

The iPad Pro launch felt like it had all the potential to occupy a (small) gap in the market, but its execution has left so many potential consumers (and Apple fans) disappointed. It feels like a product that has been engineered to address the competition (Surface Pro etc.), rather than following the traditional Apple design ethos.” Virginia Monk, MD, Network Research.

While Anna Cliffe, joint managing director, Trinity McQueen felt data security was cause for concern: “The worrying (apparent) increase in companies losing customers’ data.  This is one as an industry I think we all need to take heed of.”

Amanda Phillips, head of UK marketing at Millward Brown saw the Black Friday trend as a key let-down: “Black Friday! In my opinion, it’s lost its way. There was such a lot of hype around the event, but we witnessed how many brands have moved away from it this year in order to protect their brand and guard the quality of their customer experience. Fat Face, for example, decided to donate £250,000 to charity instead, while Asda stepped back altogether. Others went all out, with an entire ‘Black Friday Weekend’ and even ‘Cyber Monday’ to exploit the occasion as much as possible. For many consumers this was overkill, and may have been an irritation factor. It’s been proved that the event doesn’t actually create incremental sales – it just shifts the sales pattern.”

And Colin Strong, MD of Verve Ventures, had this to say on the fall in popularity of the trusty survey: “I think that there has not been enough discussion in defence of the survey. Some of the high profile disasters are self-created – trying to deliver on promises that should never have been made in the first place. But fundamentally the survey is hugely important and reflects a wider significance that as humans we have a high degree of self-determination. Whilst developments such as Artificial Intelligence and Behavioural Economics are important, they answer different questions than the ones that surveys set out to answer. We need to better consider and articulate the role and a defence of surveys on this basis.”

Other disappointments mentioned included: FIFA, Volkswagen and the Labour leadership contest.

this is the last of the 2015 review articles, but check back on december 29 for the first of our 2016 preview articles: our panel’s thoughts on the biggest trends for 2016.