OPINION25 September 2019

Is brand purpose leaking into MRX?

Charities Opinion UK

Keen as Mustard’s Adam Warner shares his thoughts from Esomar’s Congress held in Edinburgh earlier this month.

I’ve been attending research conferences for a decade now and I love a good conference, but over the past few years I’ve sometimes been left with a bad taste in my mouth. I once sat aghast, listening to a soft drinks company talking about how it used research to flog more sugary drinks in poverty-stricken favelas. A couple of years ago I saw an oil company on multiple research conference platforms postulating unashamedly that it was a ‘green’ company.

You may think I’m being a little melodramatic. Just another marketer balancing out his inherent guilt at being part of the neo-liberal capitalist machine by decrying a lack of social purpose in data and insight. I know that research and insight is used around the world for good, to fundamentally help people in many ways. I also know that at the end of the day the commercial work pays the bills.

But when I attended Esomar Congress my opinion changed – I left the conference feeling incredibly optimistic about our industry.

Every year at Congress there is always a track presented by the Esomar Foundation, it’s always a criminally under-attended session in my opinion. This year we heard from Kantar how research is helping change deeply ingrained class and gender-driven perceptions about toilets in India. From BBC Media Action we were shown how it is using social media to encourage more young people in Nigeria to vote. While the United Nations Population Fund shared its research to uncover the truth about gender-based violence in Mongolia.

This year I had a real feeling that research for good was being demonstrated on a much broader scale; now framed within commercial projects. The Insight Dojo team, along with pharma brand Shionogi, talked about creating a market leader in HPV medication. But this was a study that explored the disconnect between what a doctor says and how it’s understood by the patient, which in turn allowed for better communication between the two.

There was a mad presentation from Sentient Decision Science and Man Made Music on their work with Nissan in developing a sound for an electric car, which at its core it talked about how sound can enhance our lives and most importantly, protect us.

Will Goodhand of System1 and Sam Munderere of Surf Survivors Fund demonstrated their work in understanding the effect of emotion in charity advertising and how it can affect long term branding building versus short term donation generation – work that could have a far-reaching impact on the third sector.

Anyone that was lucky enough to attend Cannes Lions this year would have seen a huge portion of the schedule at that event filled with presentations on brand purpose. It’s a significant marketing trend but it can be a very inauthentic and transparent way of shifting more units. However, its impact has been clear on the Esomar programme committee. Just selling more is no longer enough, researchers are people first of all, and the programme of Congress shows us that purpose is what really speaks to us.

We are often asked to celebrate research – it’s Esomar director general Finn Raben’s call to action at every one of its events. And there has been a long ranging discussion in the industry about how we can demonstrate the value of our work.

I think it’s the intersection between the commercial and the social that will do that best, because we should never forget in the B2B world, that we’re people first, not job descriptions.  

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