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"Beautifully articulated barbed comments": Do Consumers Kill Ideas?

Last Tuesday's provocatively titled talk 'Do Consumers Kill Ideas?' was hosted at Ogilvy's riverside offices by CSO, Jo Arden, where she was joined by four speakers weighing in on the debate.

Theo Francis, Founder and Director at GuineaPig Fieldwork and Co-Founder at Colour of Research (CORe) kicked off the discussion describing that often, research briefs are far too guiding and specific. When considering research as planners, we must ask ourselves: are we trying to learn something new, or are we just trying to have respondents say what our clients want to hear? It's the latter approach - not consumers - that kills ideas. Taking an ‘audience-first’ approach to building a brand was the underlying theme of Theo’s talk, as he argued that killing ideas was down to narrow research goals and not knowing or listening to the audience. Take his example of a client who had attempted to dismiss a respondent from their research as they 'didn't fit the bill'. In reality, the respondent was a loyal customer who exactly fit the specification - the client just didn't really know their audience after all. Or, take the seismic shift of Timberland boots from construction footwear to a fashion staple, once the company finally listened to and embraced the black community who had made them popular. So, what role do consumers play? Theo believes that consumers should be given the power to signpost ideas, save ideas that clients are unsure of, and be given the space to build and create new ideas we may have never thought of.

Grey London's CSO Raquel Chicourel similarly came out in defence of consumers' capability to help shape the beginnings of ideas. If we consider iconic campaigns that were borne from human insights and statistics, such as 'This Girl Can' - and if we remember that stats are people - it's evident that consumers have the potential to be 'unstoppable good idea machines', provided they are brought in early enough in the process.

Pauline McGowan, Head of Strategy at The Nursery, argued that consumers can indeed kill ideas - but only because we give them the weapons to do so. Illustrating her five 'weapons' with the 'acceptable fictional violence' of Game of Thrones, Pauline explained that we allow ideas to be killed by asking for too much and by encouraging the ideas to be dissected. The aim of research should be to build ideas, not to pull them apart with consumers’ 'beautifully articulated barbed comments'. Yet, by imparting upon consumers the roles of judge, jury and executioner, we are assuming the idea is robust enough to withstand such blows. In reality, ideas in research are fragile. Research should be more 'Gardeners' World' than 'Game of Thrones' - relinquish your weapons at the door, and let your ideas grow.

And finally, Steven Lacey, Founder of 'The Outsiders', described creative development research as destructive in the eyes of creatives, risky according to account handlers, and for planners, it makes them defensive. However, consumers’ aversion to ‘different’ means that many of the world’s best campaigns would have never got past testing, had there not been bold clients and confident creatives, planners and account teams to push great ideas through, and who remembered that 'consumers are not the holy grail; they're just people'.

It's clear that despite the potentially polarising nature of the event's title, some common themes were unearthed during the session. Consumers can kill ideas - but only if we let them. More often than not, we set research up for failure by not understanding our audience, having narrow, unrealistic or vague ideas of what we want the research to achieve, and forgetting that consumers are simply people. The session left us with a provocative but necessary question: how can we expect research to build an idea when we have provided the weapons for its destruction?

Thank you to the APG and Tuesday's panel for another insightful evening.

- Catherine Gaunt, Junior Strategist at MullenLowe London


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