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

Why Research Companies Are In Danger Of Going The Way Of Adland …
November 25, 2010, 6:23 am
Filed under: Comment

Once upon a time research was a method for companies and brands to know things about them and their audience that they didn’t know.

Things that could make them better, more relevant, more profitable.

In essence, research was a torch that shone a light on the murky to help show them a better way forward.

Zoom forward to today and research is quite different.

Nowadays it’s not about shining light, it’s about wrapping them in a warm blanket.

It’s more about confirming what they know [which does have it’s place] or confirming what they want to say – regardless of whether that is the right thing they should be doing or not.

There’s lots of reasons for this, but one of them is that research companies are now so focused on maintaining their big annual contracts, they will – like many agencies – say or do whatever they think will keep the relationship alive.

Sure not all of them are like this – and as I said, there’s a whole host of other reasons for this to happen of which clients have to take more than their fair share, especially in Asia where the basic construct of decision making is “what will my boss want to hear” – however when WPP has more research companies in it’s roster than comms companies, you know the pursuit of profit … and the ramifications of not achieving that … could influence how a company responds to the brief as much as the brief itself.

I’m a big believe in research … a huge believer … but if it’s to have the value it deserves, both in the minds of clients and agencies, it’s got to stop being the safety blanket and get back to being the torch.

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i fucking hate this post because i fucking like this post. research is fucking awesome when it tells you stuff you dont know, stuff that fucking explains shit, stuff that fucking opens your fucking eyes but now research is used as a fucking barrier to keep things exactly the fucking same and the thing i still cant fucking understand is if the marketing mediocrity department explains to their fucking bosses that their findings show everyfuckingthing is frozen in time, why the bosses dont get rid of them because theres clearly no fucking point to keep someone on the payroll.

then theres the research that justifies ambiguous bollocks. the stuff their big client demands to have justified to let them do some ego shit. adland is fucking as guilty as shit as these fuckers but research companies act like theyre messengers from fucking god when most of them are as corrupt as satan, even more so when they start dictating solutions from their limited, blinkered, power hungry fucking mind.

the torch/blanket analogy is a fucking good one campbell and i hope more of the fuckers start looking into the darkness rather than sitting cosy next to the fire but lets be fucking fair and say the blame shouldnt just be limited to them, but given they act whiter than white when theyve been taking bucket loads of cash claiming 8 people in a sterile room and paying them $50 is the best way for companies to get the representative view of a whole fucking nation, then fuck them and the clients who have been too weak to challenge them or just open their fucking eyes.

companies should be made to explain their research process to their shareholders but they dont because they know thered be a fucking riot and id be there with my big fucking stick.

Comment by andy@cynic

Funny that you’ve just got a glimpse into my World and I into yours. Scary isn’t it.

Comment by Rob

Oh, and shockingly good comment – you even kept it on track – now go lie down before you realise you’re showing people your brain not just your bastardness, ha.

Comment by Rob

and my comment is longer than the fucking post, what the fuck is happening to me?

Comment by andy@cynic

Long comment Andy, have you ever thought of starting your own blog?

Comment by Age

are you asking for a fucking fight?

Comment by andy@cynic

Great post and great comment from Andy.

As you correctly and fairly point out, everyone needs to share the blame for what is happening with research, and some of the briefs they receive mean their function is undermined before it has begun, but as you also point out, the research companies act as if they are exempt from influence when methodologies and their holier than thou (or uninformative/one dimensional) responses demonstrate otherwise.

Great post, love the torch/blanket analogy and I am now trying to figure out why clients don’t question when their research and ad campaigns are handled by the same holding company. Clever move by WPP so why is so much of their work so bad?

Comment by Pete

how the fuck do you slag people off in a way where theyd thank you for it. thats either genius or being an insipid little fuck.

Comment by andy@cynic

and if they get a brief that means theyre fucked from the start then its their fault from the start just like it is for adland. it would be more fucking understandable if it was for big coin but the fuckers will bend over for the price of some pick and fucking mix.

Comment by andy@cynic

You have much higher standards of corruption than the average agency or research group Andy.

8 out of 10 people surveyed said this was a good post. More proof research has it’s issues. .

Comment by DH

im no cheap whore, im high fucking class.

Comment by andy@cynic

Any research that doesn’t act as creative director is fine by me.

Comment by Billy Whizz

That is way more insightful than I’m sure you meant Billy, but it’s a very good point.

Comment by Rob

I’m assuming your post is referring to the big, multinational largely ad-testing (pre and post) companies – which while important are only a subset of the research industry.

But within this group, I agree with you. Though, as with ad agencies, it comes down to the brief. I’ve never done pre-testing and am only familiar with campaign evaluation, but the objectives tend to be to “prove value”, “demonstrate uplift” etc. The answers are already written – an independent agency is paid to say it.

Truths are subjective and data can be spun to meet a notion, but if results aren’t quite as expected the research agency should at least try and recommend improvements, rather than outright lie or hide the truth. I’ve only worked for one client (non-profit) that was genuinely interested in harsh truths, but there is certainly a balance between relevant feedback and meeting objectives (that are derived from the brief) that needs to be found.

Comment by Simon Kendrick

truth is fucking subjective but the way research companies go on (and ignore the fucked up results some of their work has had a hand in making) youd think they were fucking yoga. adland are a bunch of delusional cocks as well but theyre already getting the kicking they deserve.

Comment by andy@cynic

Actually I’m not Simon – though without doubt they are definitely more prolific in the actions I detail in this post. As for the evaluation of results, the thing that bothers me is that often clients [endorsed by many research companies] look at the fault of the communication, without also acknowledging the many other factors that all play a part in the purchase cycle.

This is not meant as an anti-research rant, as I said, I really do believe in great research … but I am quite disheartened at how it seems to be being used on an increasing basis without seemingly, any push back from the companies, despite it having the potential to seriously undermine their value and credibility.

As I said, one look at how adland is currently perceived should be warning enough for them, but alas, the quest for cash seems to have blinkered their vision for the future.

Comment by Rob

that last paragraph is straight out of a fucking z grade science fiction movie. i dont know if that impresses me or scares the fucking shit out of me.

Comment by andy@cynic

This is meant with no disrespect, but I feel as though I’ve read this post about a hundred times, over the course of the last seven or so years. Doesn’t mean it’s wrong. It’s not. But it scares me that nothing much has changed.

By the way, I also remember reading an article in the mid 90s about how in a couple of years we’d all be working remotely from home. That didn’t happen. Bummer.

Comment by Angus

im still pissed were not in flying cars and i cant eat a sunday roast by popping a fucking pill.

Comment by andy@cynic

It’s as David Ogilvy said, most research gets used like a drunkard using a lamp-post – for support rather than illumination.

Comment by Aditya

The way companies allocate and evaluate the fees for partner services is as much to blame for the situation you describe as fear, ego and lethargy. This is why I agree with Angus and will still be agreeing in 10 years time.

Comment by Lee Hill

Yep, this is an issue that has been around about as long as adland talking about doing ideas, not ads. Wonder how long it will take for them to realise you have to DO something about it before you stand a chance of getting anything happening.

Comment by Rob

It’s definitely a big issue. I suppose the problem is when you have an agencies creative idea, a clients’ corporate reputation, AND the research company’s profit at stake… it is inevitable that hard truths will be diluted.

If we want to promote better research though, then we have to start hiring those that do it better. Those that can be constructively critical, providing new truths and insight but in a way that doesn’t make the agency/client feel like they have screwed up!

Comment by Rob Mortimer

Too many companies hire people based on a price point, not ability – and whilst money is always important – when it becomes the dominant factor in whether you hire someone, it means that quality always stands a chance of suffering … especially when ‘training’ for many organisations consists of a bad training day every 12 months where people are expected to feel good for some corporate bullshit and a stale sandwich.

As an aside, I am trying to get my company to set up a Marketeer Training Camp because having all the talent in the World won’t help us continue to do good work if the people we need to work with are fear driven conservatives.

Will it happen?

Well asking never hurt anyone. Except Oliver Twist perhaps …

Comment by Rob

Client training camp!

Comment by Rob Mortimer

I agree but things that factor in price are both observable and unobservable. Unless the data is completely off, you won’t notice the quality of response (in terms of sampling, wording and structure of questions etc), only the the quality of intepretation. And while the latter is incredible important, a well-polished turd is still ultimately a turd.

It is rare that companies hiring agencies properly interrogate the unobservable data quality elements. I think more should, as cutting down on that is the easiest way to cut costs

Comment by Simon Kendrick

You’re in danger of making this blog sensible Simon. You’re right – but then you always are aren’t you.

Comment by Rob

My above comment sounds like I’m bitching, it was actually meant as a compliment – just incase you read it and wanted to come over and smash my face in.

Comment by Rob

Cheers, no offence taken. But what I know about market research is balanced by the many others things I don’t know about, such as changing a tyre or cooking anything more complex that leaving something in the oven for 20 minutes.

Comment by Simon Kendrick

simon would have to join a very fucking long queue. ill do it for him, im much higher up with ticket number #433.

Comment by andy@cynic

The best research is ongoing real-time behavioural observation of the real world rather than project-inspired, interrogation of opinions. Discuss.

Comment by John


But then the best car would run on water.

Comment by Rob


Comment by John

And what have you done with Andy – he appears to have been hacked.

Comment by John

Is that another word for ‘nagged’?

Comment by Rob


that should reassure dodds and get my point across to campbell fucking perfectly.

Comment by andy@cynic

I got told by a client to re-do vox pops with fitter, better dressed girls because the chief exec liked to think they were all sexy fashionistas, rather than Lambrini girls
On the other hand, it was a pleasure to do them and we learned very quickly – show him a girl with great cans sporting a bit of Kate Moss at Topshop and he’d buy anything

Comment by northern

See, the ‘great cans’ was an insight that genuinely made a difference. Why can’t all research be so effective?

Comment by Rob

George Parker would be so proud.

Comment by Rob Mortimer

are you listening to this lee?

Comment by andy@cynic

Name dropper

Comment by northern

There’s two kinds of research, and two roles for planners in a creative’s eyes:
1. Source of new ideas – usable mind
2. Control – get the work through research and client approval process. Since all creative is useless, might as well win war by becoming it I say.
Apparently, back in the 1990’s great US ads had dogs in them, apparently, British planners came to US agencies and realised they could get work through pre-testing by putting dogs in, something to do with clients believing Americans loved dogs or something.

Comment by northern

I blame Russell Davies for this entire mess*..

He was THE high flyer planner who went corporate and could of set an great example of how the agency to client switch can work and get more to flip and change things from the inside..

He did not (why I dont know, he has that right).. though it was a small yet big chance to do some great stuff..

*normal lack of nuance applies

Comment by niko

thats fucking nothing, hes another sad fuck that supports forest, thats far more fucking criminal.

Comment by andy@cynic

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