Research For Better Or Worse

By - CTL
May 23, 2016

As a Producer/Director I often wished that I had some of the money for production that my clients spent on research. In my new life as a Production Consultant I  wish I had half  the money for production that my clients spend on research.

I wonder if the great campaigns of the 70’s and 80’s would have ever made it through the research process as it is today. Would we ever have seen the great cigarette launch of Winfield “Anyhow” with Paul Hogan.

Or one of Australia’s greatest sporting campaigns, MoJo’s “Come On Aussie Come On”

Then I remembered one of the truly great scenes out of the marvellous satirical program by Sir Antony Jay and Jonathan Lynn, “Yes Prime Minister” which ran between 1986 through to 1988.

In this scene Sir Humphrey, the Prime Minister’s Cabinet Secretary, is explaining to Bernard, the Prime Minister’s Principle Private Secretary, how research really works…

JONATHAN-ISABY-Yes-MinisterABERNARD: He’s going to say something new and radical in the broadcast.
HUMPHREY: What, that silly Grand Design? Bernard, that was precisely what you had to avoid! How did this come about? I shall need a very good explanation.
BERNARD: Well, he’s very keen on it.
HUMPHREY: What’s that got to do with it? Things don’t happen just because Prime Ministers are very keen on them. Neville Chamberlain was very keen on peace!
BERNARD: He thinks it’s a vote-winner.
HUMPHREY: Ah. That’s more serious. Sit down. What makes him think that?
BERNARD: Well, the party had a research poll done, and it seems all the voters were in favour of bringing back national service.
HUMPHREY: Well, have another opinion poll done showing the voters are AGAINST bringing back national service.
BERNARD: They can’t be for it AND against it.
HUMPHREY: Oh, of course they can, Bernard. Have you ever been surveyed?
BERNARD: Yes. Well, not me, actually, my house. Oh, I see what you mean.
HUMPHREY: Bernard, you know what happens. A nice young lady comes up to you. Obviously you want to create a good impression, you don’t want to look a fool, do you?
HUMPHREY: No. So she starts asking you some questions. Mr Woolley, are you worried about the number of young people without jobs?
HUMPHREY: Are you worried about the rise in crime among teenagers?
HUMPHREY: Do you think there’s a lack of discipline in our comprehensive schools?
HUMPHREY: Do you think young people welcome some authority and leadership in their lives?
HUMPHREY: Do you think they respond to a challenge?
HUMPHREY: Would you be in favour of reintroducing national service?
BERNARD: …Oh. Well, I suppose I might be.
HUMPHREY: Yes or no?
HUMPHREY: Of course you would, Bernard. After all you’ve told me, you can’t say no to that. So, they don’t mention the first five questions and they publish the last one.
BERNARD: Is that really what they do?
HUMPHREY: Not the reputable ones, no. But there aren’t many of those. Alternatively, the young lady can get the opposite result.
HUMPHREY: Mr Woolley, are you worried about the danger of war?
HUMPHREY: Are you worried about the growth of armaments?
HUMPHREY: Do you think there’s a danger in giving young people guns and teaching them how to kill?
HUMPHREY: Do you think it’s wrong to force people to take up arms against their will?
HUMPHREY: Would you oppose the reintroduction of national service?
HUMPHREY: There you are, you see, Bernard. The perfect balanced sample. So we just commission our own survey for the Ministry of Defence. See to it, Bernard.

I then came across a fabulous interview with one of the living legends of the advertising business, one of the founding partners of the English advertising agency BBH.

hegarty_john_querResearch kills more creativity than it supports: Sir John Hegarty

Sir John Hegarty, Worldwide Creative Director and Founder, Bartle Bogle Hegarty (BBH), speaks about five points to keep in mind while pitching. He shares his views on awards being a curse for the creative industry and on advertising being accountable. “Remember money is a tool, it’s not a philosophy. Chase the opportunity, not the money”, he advises creative aspirants.

Hegarty’s Five points to keep in mind while pitching…

The first thing is you have to accept that the client is asking you to pitch because something is wrong. Identifying what is wrong is fundamentally important. Finding a different way of solving that is also crucial. Making a client realize that you have skills and the people to actually solve that problem they’ve got is crucial and moreover doing it in an entertaining and interesting way is important too so that when they have seen all the pitches, they remember your pitch, not somebody else’s pitch. You have to remember the pitch is like a piece of advertising, ask yourself the question ‘does it stand out’?

Has advertising become more accountable or quantitative in terms of what are you delivering?

There is a sort of danger with advertising in the way brands are using it in order to get more measurable results. The conundrum of that is that by measuring more, you often become more inaccurate or you actually kill the thing that makes it work and of course, virtually every client I know would love marketing and advertising to be a science. They are desperate for it to be a science. But it’s not. We are human beings, we have all sorts of thoughts and feelings and we change our mind and brands need to be aware of that if they want to be a great brand and appeal to those senses, those emotions, a serendipity of what we like and dislike. Of course brands want it to be the other way around they want us to be someone that will always buy their product on a particular day or a particular time. They may want that, but it isn’t going to happen.

Are you saying accountability is killing creativity?

No I am not. Everything in a way has to be accountable. But at what point do you measure it? When does the measurement come? Are you trying to build something or are you trying to have a relationship with people? Because that takes time. The danger of accountability is you decide that I’m going to measure it in three months’ time. It is like education. You teach a classroom of kids something and try to measure it afterwards, please note there will be no change. Six months later, there might be all sorts of change.

From what you said in the past you seem to be extremely anti–research…

There is no point in me saying research is a waste of time. It can be interesting, it can provide information. By the way most of the great ideas I have had and executed were panned by research.

Research on communication is very difficult. The danger with research is that it’s just another opinion in the room, but nobody has the courage to say it is just another opinion and take the risk of ignoring (just in case it turns out to be right) it’s a bit like what we say about guns ‘guns don’t kill people, people kill people.’

So Research is a gun?

Research kills more creativity than it supports.

Awards are the curse in your view?

I have increasingly begun to think that awards have become the curse of advertising because they are encouraging creativity just to win awards and your career is now dominated by how many awards you’ve got rather than the successes you’ve created for brands. Awards should be there to support that not to subvert that. It’s all over the world. Scam has become a global problem. And an accepted way of life. Who said it is an accepted way of life? I didn’t. I didn’t build my career out of building scam. The only way we will change the market is when we make things better by demonstrating in the real world that this piece of communication really works. Look here is the evidence. If you just say ‘here is a piece of advertising, it won lots of awards, at XYZ show,’ the client goes, ‘Yes but what did it do in the real world?’ But unfortunately today even marketers are joining in this nonsense; even they want to win awards.

What do you look for when you are hiring?

I am looking for somebody who surprises and challenges me; challenge me with their ideas because by and large, if I am hiring somebody I am hiring a creative person, so I look at what they have done.

Your advice to aspiring creative leaders…

My one advice is ‘Remember money is a tool, it’s not a philosophy. Chase the opportunity, not the money. ‘

Hegarty’s Take on the ‘Great Idea’

A great idea is one that changes the way people feel or think, whether you are an architect, a painter, a poet, a writer or a filmmaker. Ideas are the most fantastic thing we have. We all have them, you don’t need special permission, or special equipment. They can be had anywhere by anybody, they are the most egalitarian thing that is done in this world today, having ideas. A great idea can change the world. I’m desperately trying to influence consumer behaviour. I’m trying to get them to look at my product versus somebody else’s. Hopefully I do that with honesty and integrity and get them to see it in a way they haven’t seen it before.

Author of the interview | Priyanka Mehra |

This presents an interesting perspective, and of course it is for you to be the ultimate judge. Next time you prepare a research brief these ideas should hold some weight.

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