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Should ideas be researched?

January 7, 2007

Dentures chatter everytime the refrigerator door is opened. Point made: brrrr.
A bar of chocolate falls on a car’s roof, and the roof just plain collapses. Point made: solid stuff.
Household pets talk about the herbal ingredients of a mosquito coil. Point made: This is safe, even for pets.
A man mistakes the sound of a saxophone on TV for…well, point taken.
Now, suppose for argument’s sake, these ideas were subjected to the acid test of research. What do you think the researcher would have asked? Well, for starters, questions such as ‘Would you buy a mosquito coil endorsed by a dog?’ and ‘Do you think that mistaking a saxophone’s sound for the breaking of wind would best illustrate the ‘fantastic sound’ attribute of a TV? And that would be the last anyone would have heard of the idea. And Indian TV audiences would have been robbed of a delightful chuckle.
Research can elicit judgements
Market researchers, say some adfolk, are party poopers. Not their fault. Because it’s mainly about seeking judgment. So respondents tend to think more like judges rather than consumers. Yet, creative ideas are subjected to tests with the kind of clinical caution normally reserved for a vaccination for some deadly disease.
Well, MR is the buzzword
Market research (MR) is gaining popularity as analytical techniques get more advanced. Besides, marketers (who are aware that they themselves are not the target audience for the products they launch) are wary. So they turn to MR. After all, if flavours and pack sizes can be pretested, why not a creative idea? Besides, everybody seems to be testing everything these days.
Research can kill a good idea
Gopi Kukde, veteran ad man, tells us about an old campaign, that of Cadbury’s 5 star which he had worked on while he was in Chaitra Leo Burnett. ‘The trainees were asked to churn out fifty to a hundred scripts and the favorite was Share my 5-star? Not a chance.’ All the scripts were researched. The feedback on this particular was the consumers thought that Cadbury’s was propagating selfishness! ‘Isn’t that absolutely ridiculous?’ asks an indignant Kukde. Anyway a line was added to the original which went something like: But for you, I’ll buy another. Brainwave. Or was it? ‘The punch had gone out of the idea. No wonder it wasn’t very successful,’ says Kukde.
Behind the scenes, such dramas are enacted almost every day. Take the Candico chewing gum commercial. The client resisted that idea of having a repulsive buffalo chew his brand of gum before a national audience. However, the agency was pretty sure that ‘right to chew’ idea would work. So it went ahead and made the commercial and then had it checked out. The response was surprisingly very good. Testing a scratch drawing or a storyboard might have been disastrous. The client was thus convinced and gave the go-ahead.
It’s not easy for clients to visualise the final impact of an extraordinary idea put forth by someone else. And often, a panel of consumers cannot articulate what the ad does for them and nor does the creative team expect it to. Besides, consumers don’t know the strategy, do they? So why ask consumers?
‘Pre-testing and even post-testing a campaign means that you are asking the consumer to sit in creative judgment,’ says Jayesh Ravindranath, Associate Vice-President, Ambience Advertising. However, he acknowleges that research has it’s uses. It can give an indication of how a consumer thinks. But he cautions: ‘The structure of the questionnaire is important. You cannot ask a consumer: Do you like this ad? Often, he may not like the ad but he might buy the product. Or, scratch the surface, and he might subconsciously like it. He may not admit it as there are people who simply won’t admit that a mere ad – particularly a provocative one – has the power to shift their preference.’ Jayesh feels that research is far more useful for testing brand attributes…not creative ideas.
Ideas are difficult to test
Ad agencies are sensitive when it comes to testing ideas. Naturally, because they can so easily be demolished by poor research. Brand attributes like a shape of a biscuit, or the softness of a cream can be dissected and analysed, ideas cannot. At least not in the same manner. This is what makes ‘idea testing’ such a ghastly prospect for creative people. It means breaking the idea down into meaningless little components. Is the colour of the background too bright? Is the word ‘funky’ too stylized? Are the model’s teeth too protruding?
Cyrus Oshidar, the creative head of MTV India, and the brain behind many of those wacky MTV promos gives the example of the idea of the famous liftman promo came to him. The idea happened when the actor in question walked into his office. Cyrus immediately linked him to an encounter he had had earlier – with grouchy old pedestrian with protruding teeth who had shouted at him for getting his car too close to him. ‘I told this guy to act like he was angry and it all came together,’ says Cyrus. Thus was born one of India’s most outstanding promos. An obnoxious man with a large nose and hair growing out of his ears who sticks his face into the camera and yells: MTV Made in India eh? This is not Made in India. This is Mad in India. How I’m saying huh? How I’m saying? M.A.D., mad in India!
What made him so sure that it was airable? ‘Whether an idea will succeed is a matter of the team’s gutfeel,’ he says. ‘And frankly, we don’t think about it too much.’ Ofcourse he dreads the thought of post-testing the promo.
‘Creative people don’t like research, as to be creative, one has to cut out all the clutter from one’s mind and concentrate on the creative idea,’ says Nishi Suri, vice-president client services, O&M. Suri believes that research is needed under several circumstances, but admits that ‘it kills something which is daring, new and completely out of the box.’ This is because research records the immediate reaction of the consumer, which is often rejection of the unusual. Yet perhaps the consumer may warm up to it over time.
Take the Onida devil and the ‘envy’ theme, which enraged many people when the campaign first broke out. Yet, post testing showed that not only did consumers soften up to it, many of them ended up buying Onida TV’s! As a brand, the advertising was well recalled. ‘If they had researched the idea, they would have had to abort the campaign,’ says Kukde.
Reminds one of the famous painter who once hung his work on a tree in a village. He asked those who did not like the painting to put a small black dot on it. The next day, he found a black canvas in place of the painting. He then hung another painting on the tree, but this time he asked those who did not like the painting to correct it. When he check his painting the next day, he found it untouched. Advertising ideas suffer a similar fate.
It’s often a question of saving one’s job
When clients demand that advertising ideas be tested, it is often to protect themselves (brand managers) not the brand. As a senior executive at a multinational confesses, ‘Research saves the manager’s butt if the idea doesn’t work.’ Asking the agency to come up with alternatives and researching them all before singling out the final one is a safeguard and absolves any one person of the responsibility should the idea bomb. And the more audacious the idea, the more queasy marketers are likely to be.
Asking consumers to play jury is asking for trouble.
After all as Navroze Dhondy, chief executive TBWA Anthem, once put it, ‘In India at least, every individual has two professions – one is his or her regular profession, the other is the creative evaluation of advertising.’
Mark Fernandez, senior creative director, TBWA Anthem Mumbai, has just this to say of research. ‘Then MR agencies could well start scripting press campaigns and TV commercials, right?’

(Published in the A&M magazine)

One Comment leave one →
  1. January 22, 2007 9:41 am

    Nita, I’ve been in advertising for the past seven years. Not a long time by any shot. But long enough to realise that an idea can never be an idea, if it loses it’s ‘virginity’.
    Well, what I mean is that an idea isn’t a product… it isn’t a cigeratte for instance. I mean, you don’t take it and test it and committee it and fumigate it and ultra-violet ray it till it resembles nothing on God’s earth.
    No. No. No.
    Imagine what would have happened if da vinci had to put his ideas through a committee. I wouldn’t want to imagine… perhaps you’d like to read a bit about it in my agency blog:

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