FEATURE1 June 2010

Ups and downs – Amanda Souter

Amanda Souter, research director at Leapfrog on advice, ad campaigns and ambition.

?The best advice I’ve had is… to buy a Mac. Apple is a brand that has revolutionised the industry and every product I own is functionally and aesthetically brilliant. If my house was burning down, after rescuing daughter and cat, I would dive into the fire and risk my life for everything with an Apple logo on it.

…and the worst advice I’ve had is too easily mistaken for the best advic and is only recognised when it’s too late to correct. I’d rather not think about this.

A campaign that grabbed me recently is… the DfT’s Kill Your Speed or Live with It campaign. The image of the distorted body of the dead child can’t fail to strike home each time you’re tempted to put your foot on the accelerator.

…and a campaign that needed more research is the Iceland sponsorship of I’m A Celebrity Get Me Out of Here is perhaps one of the most misguided brand associations that comes to mind. The idents depict Iceland’s bite-sized canapes within the context of programme contestants eating tasty ‘bush tucker’ snacks such as fish eyes, cockroaches and the odd kangaroo anus. When I dropped into Iceland in search of the Bush Tucker line, I was told they’d sold out.

One thing this industry could use more of is… the integration of research within the creative development process. All too often agency creatives believe research is the kiss of death, shy away from the viewing room and prefer to hear the consumer response second hand. When creatives become part of the process the outcome is dynamic. At Goodby Silverstein in San Francisco, Adweek’s ‘Agency of the Decade’), the team would sit in the viewing room editing scripts to feed back into the next group. The outcome is effective work that that connects with the consumer on every level.

…and one thing this industry could use less of is long reports. We should create short strategically sharp reports or, better still, bring the insights to life with documentary-style video or digital reports.

“I made brutal choices and decided that I’d never play my vinyl records again, nor look through my early copies of The Face and i-D”

One thing I hope to do is… keep generating fresh ideas for research approaches. After I set up A Pomegranate in New York we experimented with blogs to replace hand written pre-task journals. I thought it would simply be a tool for setting the context for groups or ethnographies. However, testing a new hair product with women in their home environment using blogs proved much more fruitful. Respondents were highly involved in the process, uploading images of their hair before and after using the product. They shared intimate details and insights that simply would not have been discussed or remembered in a group environment. It became an ethnological process in the deepest sense. I called it Webnography. Four years on, I’m now with Leapfrog and they are using a proprietary tool that mirrors this process – Leapfrog Live. The possibilities are endless within the social networking environment. In the future we could all be using sophisticated research-based platforms onFacebook, Twitter and Flickr. Research will be a truly iterative process where we can form an ongoing dialogue with individuals or panels of consumers.

…and one thing I wish I hadn’t done is getting rid of so much stuff when I left for New York in the mid-80s for my first stint there. I was told to lighten my load and clear out everything I no longer use. I made brutal choices and decided that I’d never play my vinyl records again, nor look through my early copies of The Face and i-D. The lot were all given or thrown away.

If I hadn’t become a researcher… I would be a TV producer. Like research, good programming is a result of careful observation and an abundance of creativity to translate the end-product into a story.

…on the other hand, if I hadn’t become a researcher I’d have many more bad hair days. After conversations with American women testing new hair products, I reached a hair epiphany. From listening to their daily styling rituals, I couldn’t help but catch the hair bug.