Man tears

I am writing this with man tears in my eyes. Thinking of a man, 15 years ago, bravely entering a career in an industry he longed to  be a part, yet amongst the jeering of friends and family – “why” and “sounds boring”. A profession that even his early workmates warned him to “run away”, as for them it was too late. They had lost all hope.

The man was ‘me’ and the profession is ‘research’. These memories surfaced when reading the recent article in B&T in which Campaign Palance Chief Executive Jacques Burger pointed his finger at research saying the Australian ad industry has “become fixated on research in a bad way.” As I noted in my response to Burger on www.bandt.com.au the danger in such a public opinion is the unreasonable link that poor advertising is because of research.

I appreciate that Burger did note that, used well, research could be valuable. “I think research is fantastic when it helps you to understand where the consumers’ head space is at, how they think and behave.” For me, a researcher passionate that great research is essential in great advertising, the low blow was the finger pointing away from ad agencies towards the sometimes vulnerable and mild mannered research agencies. You could argue that the article was a bit like the bad worker blaming his, or her, tools.

It wasn’t the initial Burger article ‘BURGER: AGENCIES AND ADVERTISERS TOO SAFE AND FIXATED ON RESEARCH’ that reduced me tears. This occurred when reading the July 24th edition of B&T ‘YES, NO, MAYBE – HAVE AUSTRALIAN ADVERTISERS AND AGENCIES BECOME TOO FIXATED ON RESEARCH”. Tears of happiness.

Four clearly smart ad minds were asked to comment on Burger’s article – Colin Jowell [Head of Strategy, M&C Saatchi], Olly Taylor [Planning Director, Host], Jeremy Nicholas [Strategic Planning Director, BMF] and Leif Stromnes [MD of Strategy and Innovation, DDB Sydney]. In my somewhat biased opinion research got four thumbs up. Burger’s comments received two thumbs down and two rather passive maybe’s.

Some nice quotes from the article are as follows:

Jowell: “a skilled researcher will always weed out the foibles of individuals that may bias the group, separate issues of understanding from issues of appeal and protect creative integrity”

Taylor: “where there’s budget and appetite for risk there’s research. … more [good] research would indicate a healthy appetite to learn and do do different”

Nicholas: “the best strategies are robust enough to stand up to scrutiny and make sense of the research”

Stromnes:“the answer is simple. they did some really smart research and convinced the client it was a great business decision, and it was” [re: Tooheys ‘Tongue’ campaign – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4tML1z720C4]

I sit here now wiping the tears away and thinking how far we have come for smart ad guys to defend the value of research in great advertising. Listening to commentary from the likes of Martin Sorrell CEO of WPP, consumer insight [and research] is the future – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ro-Op_-19co&feature=fvw.

Over my 15 years in research, we have come along way. Understanding consumers is no longer solely about surveys and focus groups, although they still play a key part. Aggregation of real-time data, social media analysis, consumer engagement via online communities, ethnography and other ever evolving approaches are emerging. Great research is holistic, dynamic and clever. Research isn’t risk adverse nerds in the backoffice with pocket calculators defining standard deviations and t-tests then squashing creativity. The focus is now on insights, and the researchers doing it well are strategic, creative and articulate about consumers. Smart young graduates from the best universities are keen to join the creative research agencies shaping great advertising. I’m very excited.

http://squareholes.com/blog/2009/07/australian-advertisers-and-their-agencies-are-too-fixated-on-research-and-play-too-safe/