Category Archives: market research

If we just had another petabyte of data, we could totally crack this brief.

One of the most oppressive memes of 2013 surely must be “big data.” It has bubbled up out of the quant swamp and gone mainstream. This week’s Ad Age dubs itself “The Data Issue”—irrefutable evidence that big data’s moment is just about over.

The cover story is about “How Data Spawned the Geico Gecko” but a close read reveals quite the opposite. Here, in an interview, is Geico’s CMO Ted Ward:

 “The Gecko was “hatched” with absolutely no research or even the intention of producing a long-running, iconic campaign.  The fact is we analyzed results from running the first set of Gecko TV spots and liked the bump in business volume. We were able to attribute the increased business to the campaign and decided to move forward with additional Gecko executions.”

So…the idea was a lucky accident, but it seemed to be working so you decided to stick with it. That’s Big Data? Please. That’s advertising. That’s why there are still agencies around and not just server farms.

Data and analytics can help you spot an opportunity in the marketplace. It can help you understand your customer. It can tell you what’s working and what’s not. It cannot, and never will, riff “Geico” into “Gecko.” Why pretend otherwise?

I admire Mr. Ward’s Geico campaigns, and the team at Martin who produces them. Both the gecko and the Cavemen were felicitous one-offs that the marketing team had the good sense to recognize had more potential. The fact that both ideas happened on the Geico account suggests a good working environment and a trusting agency-client relationship. Luck, after all,  favors the prepared. Suggesting that sifting through mountains of shopping data takes the luck factor out of the creative equation is just magical thinking.

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I want Nate Silver testing my ads.

Where have I been for the last 6 months?

Refreshing Nate Silver’s fivethirtyeight blog ten times a day, like a rat hitting the treadle for morphine. Silver’s last electoral map projections are still up on his site: 50 for 50. He’s left it up like a war trophy—a scalp. And the scalped head in question is most likely Gallup’s. Silver has been beating Gallup like a rented mule all election season, and with good reason: it blew the last two election cycles badly and was a major Romney-leaning outlier all the way to the end this time.

“It was one of the best-known polling firms, however, that had among the worst results. In late October, Gallup consistently showed Mr. Romney ahead by about six percentage points among likely voters, far different from the average of other surveys. Gallup’s final poll of the election, which had Mr. Romney up by one point, was slightly better, but still identified the wrong winner in the election. Gallup has now had three poor elections in a row. In 2008, their polls overestimated Mr. Obama’s performance, while in 2010, they overestimated how well Republicans would do in the race for the United States House.”

Why has Gallup been getting it wrong? Like Mr. Romney and his party, it’s a bit stuck in the 50s, depending on land-line phones for its polling.  “Research by polling firms and academic groups suggests that polls that fail to call cellphones may underestimate the performance of Democratic candidates.

The roughly one-third of Americans who rely exclusively on cellphones tend to be younger, more urban, worse off financially and more likely to be black or Hispanic than the broader group of voters, all characteristics that correlate with Democratic voting.”

Well, duh.

But there are laws restricting access to cell numbers and the ability to make unsolicited calls. So what is a polling outfit to do? The big winners  this year were the research firms

who depended partly or entirely on online polling, which is where most Americans do their fact-finding and opining.

The stunning obviousness of this methodological flaw is

matched only by the glacial slowness with which traditional research firms are changing to adapt.

All of which got me to thinking about advertising research, which in 2012 is still rounding up the usual underemployed or retired suspects, sticking them in conference rooms with 2-way mirrors and showing them animatics or “adlobs.” It is as stuck in the 50s as Gallup, which itself had its roots in advertising research, and the reliability of the results is just as suspect.

If the triumph of Nate Silver teaches us anything, it’s that good data isn’t about the answers people give. It’s about who is giving the answers, and who’s asking the questions.


No one here but us old white people.

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Just when you thought it was safe to work on P&G

P&G Finds Orange Ads Work Better on Facebook | Digital – Advertising Age.

Four down. Only 23 to go!

When the Weiden & Kennedy Old Spice campaign hit, it was a bittersweet moment for me. I worked on Procter business for almost 15 years, during the dark ages when they called advertising “copy” and storyboards lived or died on a day-after-recall test score. I had already moved on to other clients (and different kinds of problems) when P&G started to evolve creatively over the last few years–going to Cannes, freshening up their agency roster, doing better, simpler, more visually oriented work. Then the Old Spice Man happened and I could taste the green bile of envy in my mouth: If only P&G was this open-minded back when I worked on the business…

Well, maybe not so much. Companies, like people, revert to type over time. In Procter’s case, that means the overpowering desire to turn creative into a quantitatively-driven, repeatable, predictable process. In my day, that meant dealing with canards like “You need to mention the brand name 4 times during the 3o seconds, and within 4 seconds from the beginning.” Now, thanks to the continuous feedback loop which is the internet, it’s much, much, more granular:

“For about a year, Pantene has been using such a system, Smart Media, developed with Resource Interactive, Cincinnati. Smart Media analyzes click-through rates and flash surveys on purchase intent across numerous permutations of ads and placements.

The program evaluates three creative elements (the headline, hair visual and background color), and Pantene makes changes based on how different combinations of each element perform in various media placements.

The brand makes discoveries that inform future creative. Those have included that white backgrounds don’t work well on Yahoo, orange is effective on Facebook and blondes get a better response than brunettes on some sites.”

Personally, I’d rather stick knitting needles in my eyes than face a future of letting every single variable in an ad I create be “optimized” in this way. But that doesn’t make me right. It makes me, at this point in my career, someone with the luxury of choice. Procter is seeing gains in all their metrics by following this methodology, and I have no reason to doubt it. Google, everyone’s favorite cool tech company besides Apple, does everything this way. Every word, every color, every pixel of white space in a Google interface has been “designed” by sheer computational force. While I doubt that is true of their wonderful advertising yet (because if it did, I’d have to kill myself), give it time.

Meanwhile, if you’re a youngish creative with a headhunter texting you about a great job working on P&G at Publicis, think about this: 1 banner ad with 3 different headline options, 3 different background colors and 3 different head shots=27 layouts.

Have fun.

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Stimulate this.

One of the many odious aspects of focus groups is using the term “stimulus” to refer to the creative work being subjected to the group’s malevolent scrutiny.

When I think of a stimulus, I think of a cattle prod. Or a latexed digit going where I don’t want it to. Which is maybe apt, since another odious focus group term is “probe,” as in “Let’s probe to see if this image is polarizing.”

Painful. Dehumanizing. Clinical. Stimuli are meant to provoke reaction. But often the reaction they provoke, in the stimulated and stimulator alike, is: please please stop.