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

Insights That Make You Laugh …
July 24, 2009, 6:55 am
Filed under: Comment


It’s a word that has been bastardised in so many ways.

Well to be fair, the word hasn’t, but the meaning has.

I get really upset when I hear what some people pass off for ‘insight’ these days – but I’ve banged on about that so many times that I won’t waste my breath and your patience.

However I want to write about how you get it.

Of course there’s the classic disciplines … exploring, interviewing, reading, talking, dissecting, watching, living … however there’s another approach we’ve continually used that has proved to be very beneficial over the years …


No, I’m not talking politicians or bankers, I’m talking about the buggers who are paid to purposefully make you laugh.

Now there’s a couple of reasons for this …

1/ Many of them are experts in human observation and have an innate ability to express it in a meaningful and thought-provoking way.

2/ When you are working on a project that is literally sucking the life out of you, they can make you laugh – ensuring you don’t find yourself accidently repeatedly brushing a razor across your wrists.

Now I am not suggesting this could/should be done instead of the more classic approaches to insight development – god no – but what I am saying is that often they can provide either some ‘food-for-thought’ interms of how/why people act in specific ways OR give you inspiration as to how this can be expressed in a creatively interesting way.

There’s many ways you can do this, you can sit down and watch shedloads of comedy DVD’s – which is good for future ideas – or you can, as we have, go out and make friends with a bunch of funny guys and then, when appropriate, approach [and pay] them to hear their views and observations about particular issues or habits.

In all honesty, this method has helped us develop quite a few interesting things … from the ‘You Can’t Watch This’ campaign for SONY Bravia [based on Billy Connolly’s comment that ‘TV manufacturers were mad using TV advertising to show how good the picture was on their new TV’s because if it looked good on the set the viewer was watching at home, why the fuck would they bother going out to buy a new one?] through to proposing to GIO Insurance they become the official ‘life insurance’ company of the Jackass crew.

Now I know the 2 examples I’ve just given, don’t exactly represent core insight – more idea expression – but in all honesty, you’d be amazed how often we’ve found a comedian make an observation that opens up new doors both interms of strategy and creativity.

Look, I know this approach is nothing new or ground breaking – but when you look at the state of so much advertising today, anything that can drive more interesting yet resonant and relevant thoughts is worth exploring.

To get you started, have a look at this …

… or for a more American view, the brilliant George Carlin …

… so next time you watch a comedian, don’t just piss yourself laughing – write some of their human observations down [I mean literally, write them down. In a book or on your computer] because you have no ideas when they might come in handy.

24 Comments so far
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Jim Davidson?

Comment by John

just for the record rob, creatives find anything from a planner fucking hysterical.

Comment by andy@cynic

But this is the truest thing you’ll ever write.

Comment by John

Jim Davidson offers a lot of insights Mr Dodds … but more about the people who mention him than the things he personally says.


And dear Andy, your comment might have more impact if you didn’t represent a discipline that regards Crayola crayons as its tool of the trade.


Comment by Rob

That insurance idea rocks.

Comment by Dave Leeson

0.0028 seconds.

Comment by Marcus

0.0028 seconds.

Comment by Marcus

why can’t I comment anymore? You blocking me?

Comment by Marcus

I’m not – but given this blog blocks Dodds all the time, maybe it has something to do with errrrm, I’ll let you decide what attribute you share with Mr Pedantic. 🙂

Comment by Rob

Ah! Dodds!

Comment by Marcus

Yes, it’s all his fault. As usual.

Comment by Rob

Kane has clearly studied Lee Evans… but for the better.

Comment by Rob Mortimer

Oh and thanks for reminding me why George Carlin was a fucking genius.

I will say, the only thing Davidson has ever said that I found genuinely funny was where he talked about going so fast that a speed camera can’t take your picture. Sadly he still sounded like a cocky racist shit when he said it.

Comment by Rob Mortimer

how did you know that russell kane is going to my next husband?! swoon…

interestingly, this is the second blog post i’ve read relating comedians to advertising in as many days. (the junior boys and girls intereview wil anderson over at

and, i have to say, the idea of working with those funny fuckers to gain insight into people is brilliant. and, having said that, i’m rather pleased that the primary way the rest of society get insight into others is by actually seeing comedians and not relying on advertising’s rehash of their observations.

Comment by lauren

Dear Mr M and Lauren … I don’t know how you arranged such synchronisity, but I love both your last sentence more than you could ever know.

I’m going home now – so have a toptastic [sorry Marcus] weekend and I’ll see you all Monday.

Comment by Rob

So true! Comedians are great for observations on life…personally I love Omid Djalili and Lee Evans, hilarious but so true! I did a similar blog post a while ago….ok maybe not similar but atleast comedian related!

Comment by Shib

Hey Rob

Totally agree with you about the overuse of “insight” (it used to be in my job title) and wrote something on to my blog to that effect last week.

But… I don’t fully agree with you about comedians – they may be good observers but they are only a sub-set of those who pay attention. Whether ethnographers/anthropologists who go out and spend time with the “average person”, professional devil’s advocates or normal people with a nice turn of phrase (Yogi Berra being my personal favourite),there are plenty of people and methods to escape our media-centric view on society.


PS Although I am a first time commenter, I am a real reader – don’t let the lack of profanity fool you

Comment by Simon Kendrick

Hi Simon, nice to have you make your debut 🙂

I agree with you – and if it came across that I was saying comedians are the only people who have an ability to recognise social/individual habits, then I didn’t explain myself properly.

There are lots of people out there who have an ability to ‘read’ the habits and actions [and reasons for that] of society … hell, I’d like to think I am one of them as well … however what I find with comedians is that not only do they sometimes find a way to express an insight in a fresh-yet-relevant way, they often pick up on other elements that you may have missed simply because your area of focus has been in another area.

I’m a big believer in exploring breadth and depth so whilst I happily suggest involving a different element into the discovery phase of planning, I certainly am not suggesting the true experts are left out in the cold – even though I will also say, I am often left dismayed at the standard of information and insight the specialists sometimes come back with – especially ‘3 day’ ethnographers, who make giant calls despite having spent an incredibly small amount of time with a ‘normal’ person and even then, probably are being exposed to a variation of how that person normally lives because the presence of a stranger will have an impact on their behaviour.

Of course the good ethnographers take this into account, but I’ve recently read quite a few alarming reports that single handidly failed to make mention of this in their report even though the examples they highlighted to demonstrate a specific point almost screamed “NOT REAL BEHAVIOUR” from the report.

Anyway I digress – and if you’ve read this rubbish for a while, you’ll know I am a big fan of research, but still regard it as a guide for advancement rather than a blueprint … something certain people think is a slur on their reputation even though the World is littered with examples of business failure from organisations who researched every little thing.

Right I’m off but thank you very much for the comment and I hope you come back again soon – even without any profanity, ha!

Comment by Rob

I think it was more me not reading properly than you not explaining properly. Blind fucker, and all that…

Totally agree about the importance of diverse perspectives. And Sturgeon’s Law would indicate that 90% of all ethnography is rubbish. The two biggest problems are a) adequately representing your audience within only a couple of households and b) knowing where to look.

My favourite example was when Tesco launched Fresh n Easy in the US. Their ethnographers looked through the cupboards of select homes and saw lots of fresh goods. There was obviously a big market opportunity there.

What they didn’t do was look in the garage, where all the massive pigs and fries were kept in the freezer.

Grant McCracken is an ethnographer (well worth reading) who called Tesco out on it.

Comment by Simon Kendrick

So it took 2 comments before you started swearing … if only I had that level of influence on my clients, ha.

I’m a big fan of Grant – not just because he is smart and intelligent – but he acknowledges where research has flaws.

Like your Tesco’s example, there are loads of stories of corporate stupidity executed off the back of ‘insightful research’. You think the Tesco’s example is bad, you should see how much Aldi Supermarkets lost in China when they failed to realise the reason they don’t have many ‘stack-em-high-sell-em-low food places is because the houses are so bloody small you can’t keep much food in storage.

Best bit is that in terms of store visits, Aldi commanded amazing numbers – however people were coming just to look around [like it was a theme park or museum] not to actually spend any money there, ha!

And just recently I had the pleasure of spending a weekend with an Australian ethnographer who lived in LA doing research on beer drinking in 2nd tier Chinese cities and you should of heard the crap he ‘discovered’.

I was so appalled at what he was going to recommend that I wrote to the client and said if they were to action his recommendations we would resign the account because they are fundamentally flawed and would only result in the lost of huge amounts of cash. Of course they need to take some responsibility for hiring this fool in the first place – but the standard of ethnographers in my experience is not nearly as high as the industry would imagine.

That is why my attitude is to use multiple methodologies to both identify broader issues and cross reference identified insights. Some clients complain it costs them more, but in the big scheme of things – when they’re not having to relaunch their brand every 12 months because of the last fuck-up they spent millions on – it proves to be more cost efficient, acknowledging there is natural evolution in the attitudes and behaviour of culture so you’ll never be able to say you have found the definitive answer to all their prayers.

Anyway I won’t go on – you can see my love and hate of research if you click on this old post I wrote – and thanks again for coming mate.

Comment by Rob

hi rob – nice idea to gain insights via comedy. thanks for the input. found it through a comment on my post on insights here

Comment by nina

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