The last two weeks have been a chai-fuelled research marathon across India, watching almost fifty hours of focus groups. Taking in Mumbai, Indore, and Lucknow, it was an exhausting, inspiring and enlightening journey. It was my first time back in India after almost a decade, and a five-hour layover in Delhi gave me some time to reflect. India does that to you.
The meeting room is the enemy of customer / consumer / human empathy.
Everyone is guilty of ethnocentrism. The only variable is how quick we are to realise – and admit – that.
All cultural generalisations evaporate on closer inspection.
Your value system is not shared (or understood or even wanted) by most people.
Coming from a culture dedicated to engineering out all vestige of physical proximity and contact from human interactions makes you a bit of a weirdo.
Faith, belief, religion… call it what you will. It might be in retreat where you come from. But it’s an everyday reality for much of the world. We strive to build our gods (sorry, A.I.). Most people already have theirs.
You’re an employee. Pretty much everybody here is a business owner.
You do not have the monopoly on what you faux-apologetically call ‘First World’ problems.
Everybody here is a hacker of some kind.
A culture is impossible to properly understand without a knowledge and appreciation of its history.
If you want to feel the winds of social, economic, and cultural change, visit a secondary city. It’s where tradition dances and negotiates with modernity.
Your ideas about the primacy of the individual and the nobility and urgency of seeking ‘self-actualisation’ do not wash here, buddy.
You think life has got more precarious? Pfftt. Uncertainty is a way of life for most people.
A cultural cold war is being fought. The battle between patriarchy and female emancipation. You’re included too. It’s global.
Your culture is old and tired. Theirs is ancient and vigorous.
People are aware of the price the West pays for its untrammelled, selfish conception of individuality. Having seen the consequences, they’re not convinced they want to pay it.
Wherever there is beauty, there’s ugliness and darkness too. It’s important to see both.
In a marketplace this big, every niche is a profit opportunity.
The new office buildings going up are almost all devoid of any vernacular reference. Efficient to build and run you could be in Chicago or London. Let’s not kid ourselves. For all its upsides, globalism also steamrollers over much that is indigenous, unique, owned, sustainable, and precious.
You can see the demographics on every street corner. And demographics are fate.
Much of the time when we talk about “everybody” we are in reality only talking about our own tiny corner of the globe.
The most productive research process is designed, managed, and owned by both client and agency. Anything else breeds mistrust.
Hire researchers. Not mere ‘moderators’. There is a difference. And it makes a difference.
Empathy and insight depend on understanding technology through the lens of people. Not people through the lens of technology.
Learn. Adapt. Repeat. If you’re conducting strategic research, iterate your approach and materials as you go if you want to make rapid progress. Anything else is mindlessly ‘testing’.
It is not the unique privilege of creatives to be insulated from the reality of everyday lives (and thus, research). Good creatives want to see, hear, and understand who they are creating for.
Needless to say there’s a bunch of more personal stuff I have learnt along the way. But that’s not for this blog.
As a former researcher turned agency planner I’ve worked both in research and with it. So as a gamekeeper turned poacher, I’ve always held rather strong views on research. I got a chance to air some of those this week, having been invited by Ipsos ASI to their seminar ‘Research as fertiliser, not weed killer’ in London this week.
It’s fair to say that what this presentation does not cover far exceeds what it does cover. The subject of research and effective creativity after all is vast. So working on the basis that the essence of strategy is sacrifice, it felt helpful to restate some simple principles to work by. More specifically to share Wieden+Kennedy‘s beliefs about the best use of research.
Of course for some these will seem breathtakingly obvious. After all, the likes of Stephen King, Stanley Pollitt, and Alan Hedges were saying the same things forty years ago. The necessity of restating them might justifiably depress us, but perhaps it should not mystify us entirely. For as Voltaire once had cause to lament, “the trouble with common sense is that it is not very common.”
Good research can and does happen. And it can and does contribute to the development of great, effective ideas. In both the APG Awards and the IPA Effectiveness Awards we have plenty of evidence for that.
But too much research is still done for the wrong reasons, in the wrong way, and arguably by the wrong people.
Too much research has wholly outdated assumptions about the human mind, let alone how advertising works.
And too much research defines itself by its methods, rather than by the relevance and usefulness of its outputs.
My gripe then, is not with research per se (who would not want an understanding of the context for their efforts?) but with bad research. Of which there is still, far too much.
Enough with the preamble. First, here is the work I began with – a selection of work from Wieden+Kennedy Amsterdam and Portland:
And here is a slightly expanded version of the presentation that followed:
My very sincere thanks go to IPSOS for inviting me to join conversation, and for having the fortitude and broadmindedness to allow me to share some unedited (and occasionally inconvenient) points of view.
And a very special thanks goes to a wonderful gent and a fearsome talent – Ignasi Tudela Calafell here at Wieden+Kennedy Amsterdam, who designed the awesome Salmon vs Lamposts poster.