Lethal Research

Posted on August 8, 2008


For what must have been the first time, I was genuinely delighted to find myself viewing concept tests in focus groups today. Honest. This, however, had very little to do with the concept tests themselves: what was discussed in them, what different people said, not to mention the methodology itself. Truth is, I was just happy to be alive. To just sit there. To be. I looked at my hands, checked that I could move them at will and confirmed to myself that I was in fact alive. It wasn’t a dream.

What had happened a few hours earlier in the day when I flew into Shenzhen from Singapore for these focus groups is something I’ll never forget. I was convinced that sitting in that airplane seat, feeling as if I had suddenly been thrown into a gigantic washing machine cylinder, was going to be my last experience in life.

Shortly after take-off, we were warned by the captain that our descent into Shenzhen was going to be bumpy. This must be one of the biggest understatements ever made. In the middle of raging tropical storm Kammuri, it took the pilots three attempts, including two abruptly aborted runway approaches, to get the Airbus 319 in position to touch down on mother earth. Violently.

The agonisingly annoying elevator music streaming out of the cabin’s sound system during the drama didn’t make it any easier for anyone. I soon realized that it wasn’t just me who found the experience disconcerting; three passengers seated near me were all throwing up in those sick bags you always find in the seat pocket in front of you. I assumed it was the turbulence, not the elevator music, that triggered the vomiting, but I thought I’d better not ask.

The initial delight and positivity I felt sitting in these concept tests turned out to be short-lived. Although I was still happy to be alive, I couldn’t help but hearing what was said in the groups in response to the questions asked. This reminded me how much I passionately hate mindless research let alone advertising’s and market research’s co-existence in the biggest commercial lie since the beginning of history.

I’ve posted on the misuse of ‘research’ before and maintain my position: copious amounts of money is poured into research predicated on completely flawed and outdated theories about how the human mind works and how it processes advertising. I’m not going to repeat myself. Instead, I strongly recommend you go here and read Paul Feldwick’s excellent article “Exploding the message myth”. I wish every person in the industry could fully understand and embrace the implications of what Paul is saying.

I’m tired now and will be going to bed in a few minutes with the rather disturbing thought that focus groups almost got me killed today. Literally. So take my advice: stay away from creativity-killing focus groups. Your life could depend on it.

Posted in: Planning-related