OPINION13 October 2017

Insight The Apprentice way

Automotive Opinion UK

When it comes to market research participant engagment, The Apprentice can teach us a thing or two says Rhiannon Price. 


The Apprentice recently hit our screens for its thirteenth series. As predicted, we were introduced to 18 hopefuls who demonstrated questionable business acumen, shocking time management skills and of course, ‘vibrant’ personalities. Of note, there was Danny from Kent, the project manager (PM) for the boys’ team who was so indecisive, so disorganised and so lacking in creativity it would probably take him hours just to come up with a team name.  Oh wait. That’s exactly what happened.

Then there was Elizabeth who describes herself as a ‘slightly bonkers country girl’ and, like anyone who describes themselves as bonkers, duly spent the whole task trying to prove how crazy and off beat she really is.

And how can you not mention Charles, the rogue, the renegade, the one who defiantly refused to listen to his PM and has now been tarnished as this season’s Judas. I could go on.

But the point I am trying to make is that in just one hour of the first episode I got to grips with the characters of at least 10 of the 18 candidates and I’m sure by next week I could write all their dating profiles and get them a match!

That I could do this, after such a short amount of air time, makes for an interesting observation. By putting people in different situations, The Apprentice format, like any reality TV series, is a great spring-board for exposing people’s true personalities and character traits. And as a researcher whose endeavour in life is to get to the bottom of humans and what makes them tick, this accepted truth about reality TV – that it is about learning about people – is music to my ears.

Because look a little closer and you realise The Apprentice isn’t just a highly entertaining TV show, it has the potential to be used as the basis for a brand new and innovative qualitative research methodology. Which is exactly what Northstar and Jaguar Land Rover did when together we completely re-imagined how to execute and disseminate target customer exploration.

But why The Apprentice? After investigating many potential TV shows, we decided it was the perfect format as it had the reality TV benefits as I’ve already noted, but it is also a game-show meaning we could take advantage of everything gamification has to offer market research.

For example, higher engagement levels and accessing system 1 thinking. But more than this, it is also very familiar to our participants – so known, and almost expected, exaggerated personalities and dog-eat-dog environment would act as the ultimate projective technique, giving them license to be their true selves without fear of judgement.

Also, its familiarity would benefit us in terms of insight communication, as the default setting for our clients watching our episodes would be to try to learn about the characters.

There was a lot involved in designing, executing and editing the three 15-minute episodes we produced for output. On many occasions, as researchers, we were out of our comfort zones. We wrote scripts, auditioned bi-lingual actors, developed characters and back-stories, created theme tunes, sourced boardroom tables and hired illustrators to name just a few of our ‘non-research’ responsibilities.

Once we were ready to go, with the help of creative engagement agency, The Moment, – we put 12 ‘candidates’ in the UK, US and Germany through their paces.

To do this, we divided them into three teams whereby, over the course of two days, they completed three bespoke tasks designed to reveal their character traits and vehicle desires. At the end of these two days, one candidate in each market was crowned Jaguar Land Rover’s Ultimate Target Customer.

The end result was game-changing. Firstly, we have never before seen such levels of participant engagement – in each market we were repeatedly thanked for giving contestants the opportunity to take part in such a unique experience. Secondly, it was a great success in engaging a wide audience and disseminating insight across Jaguar Land Rover – our three 15 minute episodes have been viewed over 2,500 times in the business. This is around three times more than previous target customer documentaries.

But, the learnings for the industry are perhaps what we are most excited about. For a while now Northstar has felt passionate about the potential of tapping into pop culture to create more engaging and innovative methodologies and, with The Apprentice, we believe we have proven this to be the case. And, with 100s of TV formats out there, the possibilities are endless!

Rhiannon Price is head of qualitative at Northstar Research


7 years ago | 1 like

Interesting as a research approach, but I'm not sure about the underlying logic. The Apprentice isn't a social experiment: the 'contestants' are cast by the production company who sift through thousands of applications and interview potential candidates in order to handpick a mix of contrasting characters likely to produce an entertaining storyline. They then shoot hours of footage that is carefully edited to create or exaggerate a narrative and make the programme as entertaining for viewers as possible. It's not the tasks that reveal the characters - the characters are already handpicked before the tasks even start.

Like Report

7 years ago

I agree with Mark - this is carefully choreographed fiction - as perfectly demonstrated by this fabulous Mitchell and Webb sketch https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3ss-59fi4nM

Like Report