The Musings Of An Opinionated Sod [Help Me Grow!]


Research Is Great …

I heard a great story recently about the iconic movie, Die Hard.

Apparently in early test groups, viewers were confused why the lead character was pitched as a hero when he “keeps hiding and calling for help”.

I must admit, I laughed out loud when I heard this … mainly because it was a viewpoint that I don’t think I would have ever come up with, even if I was working on it 24/7 for a year.

It also probably says more about where the minds of American men were back when the movie came out than anything else.

And while learning this has ensured I will never watch the movie in the same way again, it does highlight the best and worst of focus groups.

I must admit I’m not a fan of this approach.

To be fair, it’s less the methodology and more about how clients are using what they find/hear.

Treating it as undeniable fact … something that needs to be followed to the letter.

But the reality is focus groups are – at best – a guide, rather than a blueprint.

Factors like group dynamics, vacuum thinking and the focus on answers, not understanding all combine to ensure there are a number of major flaws with this approach, and yet some blindly believe this is pathway to success.

Fools.

To be fair, I feel this way about pretty much all research methodologies.

Not because I’m a prick, but because context and dynamics continually shape our viewpoints and behaviours, which is why I don’t like relying on one form of research but a combination of different kinds … as long as one is spent out in culture, talking … listening … learning from the way the core of subcultures live.

Not just in terms of the specific thing we are working on, but life in general.

The language.

The associations.

The labels they use.

The pressures, laughter, fears and concerns …

Clothes … music … games … hashtags … iconography …

Their thoughts about situations not just their reactions or behaviours …

What they’ve started doing rather than what they’ve always done … the ‘edge effect’ that Martin and I talked about in our Cannes talk on Chaos last year.

But that approach is still seen as the exception rather than the rule.

Interacting with real life is still viewed as a novelty rather than a reality.

Which is why, if you have to use research, I like the way Dreamworks does it.

They don’t care about what people think about their stories or characters … they don’t give a shit about the highs or lows or things they’d change, they ask just one simple question …

Were you entertained?

That’s it.

It’s the only thing that matters to them.

Simple. Focused. Clear.

Because while they want people to enjoy what they do, they don’t want people to decide what they do …

Sure, they listen to what is said.

Sure, they sometimes decide to make changes based on what is said.

But they never do what they don’t agree with because you can’t steer a ship to port when you have a thousand captains all telling you where to go.

There’s a lot of people who could learn from this.

And I don’t just mean clients …


32 Comments so far
Leave a comment

I like this post and not just because of the great Die Hard story.

Comment by Bazza

Great post Robert. The Die Hard story is very funny and very 1980s American male. I do find it interesting that the people behind the most desired or culturally significant brands tend not to adopt or blindly follow the research methodologies favoured by multinationals. The irony only increases when you remember the multinationals follow this approach in an attempt to achieve a similar level of cultural influence and loyalty. Rather than research creative work, the people impacting culture study culture because they wish it to shape their thinking not dictate their work.

Comment by George

I’ve heard some scary stories about your lot demanding vast amounts of proof before approving work. I know it’s nothing to do with you but is it true?

Comment by Bazza

No comment.

Comment by Pete

you fucking corporate coward.

Comment by andy@cynic

Yes. A million times yes.

The amount of research I’ve done for Nike is huge. But it’s always to understand rather than get specific answers. This not only leads to better work but to leading change rather than just desperately trying to follow it.

Comment by Rob

And now you have added a link to it, I will watch your talk on chaos again.

Comment by George

Suffering from insomnia?

Comment by Bazza

It’s very effective.

Comment by Rob

I wish to watch the talk again too George. And Die Hard.

Comment by Lee Hill

To paraphrase David Ogilvy, bad clients use research (or the more aspirational data) like a drunk uses a lamppost.

Comment by Pete

The more aspirational ‘data’ is a great sledge.

And yes, I know people will be quick to tell me the difference between data and research and then I’ll be quick to tell them data is only as good as the person doing it, evaluating it and asking questions because if it … so don’t be all smug thinking you have all the definitive answers when I almost guarantee you don’t and most likely never will.

Comment by Rob

I’ve sent this post to some acquaintances. They need to read it. Another excellent post Robert. You are on a roll.

Comment by Lee Hill

You were one of the people who was most supportive of bringing ‘my ways’ into a companies process and for that I will always be grateful.

Comment by Rob

We may have forgotten a few of the tricks you taught us over the years. Maybe we need to get you back in to remind us.

Comment by Lee Hill

That would be cruel and unusual punishment. And would almost certainly lead to innumerable HR violations.

Comment by John

for fucks sake lee, learn your fucking lesson.

Comment by andy@cynic

USA USA USA USA USA USA USA USA USA USA USA USA USA USA USA USD USA USA USA USA USA USA USA USAUSA USA USA USA USA USA USA USA USA USA USA USA USA USA USA USD USA USA USA USA USA USA USA USAUSA USA USA USA USA USA USA USA USA USA USA USA USA USA USA USD USA USA USA USA USA USA USA USAUSA USA USA USA USA USA USA USA USA USA USA USA USA USA USA USD USA USA USA USA USA USA USA USAUSA USA USA USA USA USA USA USA USA USA USA USA USA USA USA USD USA USA USA USA USA USA USA USAUSA USA USA USA USA USA USA USA USA USA USA USA USA USA USA USD USA USA USA USA USA USA USA USAUSA USA USA USA USA USA USA USA USA USA USA USA USA USA USA USD USA USA USA USA USA USA USA

Comment by Billy Whizz

you fucking sad twat.

Comment by andy@cynic

“Were you entertained?” Brilliant.

Comment by Wayne Green

Focus groups are prompted conversations. Nothing like real life.

Comment by John

Half the time, they’re not even conversations … just statements.

Comment by Rob

Focus groups are only the tip of the iceberg. Semiotics, ethnography, ethnodeps. All tools, that in the hands of the wrong people can create unspeakable havoc.

Comment by Northern

Don’t forget retina tracking.

And then my favourite story.

A friend of mine was attached up to some brainwave device by a research company and shown an ad. The findings said he was interested in the work up until the brand started talking about itself at the end.

And what was the advice they gave back to the client – that they followed to the letter?

“The respondent loses interest in the ad by the time the brand messaging appeared. Move this narrative earlier in the ad so their interest is extended”.

They literally said that. And the client literally did that … conveniently oblivious to the fact the brand was the problem and moving it up earlier just increased the speed of boredom. And I bet you a million dollars the agency got the blame for the lack of effectiveness,

Comment by Rob

Blimey. bloody researchers

Comment by Northern

was that galloway campbell?

Comment by andy@cynic

I hate it when I like a post, but this is really good. The die hard story just makes it better.

Comment by DH

dont worry, it hardly ever fucking happens and normal planner bollocks shit will be back tomorrow.

Comment by andy@cynic

to all those american twats that though die hard boy was a fucking cry baby wimp. watch any die hard past 3 and see how shit the movies get when he turns into donald trump with a gun and 30 espressos in his fucking blood stream.

Comment by andy@cynic

That is more insightful than most effectiveness award submissions I’ve judged. Genius … and you know how much that hurts me to type. Ha.

Comment by Rob

truth fucking hurts doesnt it campbell.

Comment by andy@cynic

[…] it is far less about understanding and far more about efficiency, which means you lose all nuance and authenticity, which is the […]

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