“Can you please come watch this commercial? We’ll take out the trash.”
This is how consumer research generally started when I was an account man at the nation’s most creative ad agency in the 1990s.
My team and I were back at the agency the evening before we needed to present rough cuts to the client, debating which version would be most effective. Having reached a stalemate, we called in the consumer: the office cleaning person who, in exchange for giving up cleaning duties for an hour, offered their opinion on our creative work.
I wish I could say that this only happened once, but I think the cleaning crew at 375 Hudson Street in NYC began putting “voice of the consumer” on their resumes by the time they left.
This method of fact-finding is woefully insufficient in today’s hyper-everything communications world. While it is easy to look back and laugh at our eleventh-hour approach, I could argue that this sort of direct exposure interview worked just fine when the advertising business was a simple one — when the path from media to consumer was direct.
All the science you needed in that world was a basic knowledge of storytelling and a sound intuition about consumers — and one could infer if an insight was relevant and a story well told simply by asking people.
The proof is in the pudding
In years past, advertisers could target discrete and largely homogenous audiences that consumed media in a centralized and well-defined way (think prime-time or a billboard on the evening commute). Media content, and the branded messaging that accompanied it, could be written for the audience, rather than an audience — one of many.
Now there are as many audiences as there are consumers and nearly that many channels of communication. Effective advertising campaigns must build layers of creative elements into multifaceted story worlds that form around micro-targets in almost infinite combinations, as brands struggle to reach consumers in their increasingly individuated media bubbles.
Understanding the various consumer needs states, and the combination of messages that will appeal to each, is a challenge well beyond the intuition of even the best advertising minds — it demands facts.
A fact is something concrete: a piece of information that corresponds to reality.
Who your audience is, what media they consume, and how, are all the domain of fact.
Facts don’t sell, ideas do
However essential facts may be to getting brands and consumers in the same room, there is a limit to their usefulness. In the words of literary critic Friedrich Schlegel, “notes to a poem are like anatomical lectures on a piece of roast beef.” Like poems, compelling ads are more than a checklist of behavioral triggers. They must engage the audience’s imagination.
As frustrating as it is for many marketers, logically listing why a product is superior to the competition doesn’t work. People don’t make decisions based on facts. They process information most effectively as the …read more
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