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The danger of the default

September 3, 2008

Some thoughts on choosing an advertising research method:


Moving from focus groups to ethnography is a bit like moving from black and white to color, from wired to wireless, from basic cable to extended cable, from  a fat free, no whip latte to the full fat bring on the whip latte, from shopping at the regular Target  to shopping at the Target Super Center.  From….well… I think you get the picture. To sum it up: More, Bigger, Tastier.


Notice I don’t sum it up as Better. Sometimes you just want to watch local news on basic. Sometimes you want to save the calories and just get the caffeine buzz from the regular coffee. Sometimes you just need toilet paper, not the extended deli and tire section. And sometimes you don’t need to be mobile.


But sometimes, you do. And in defaulting the norm, you’d miss out on what you are really looking for. The new episode of Entourage. The sugar rush. The tire change and honey baked ham.


Leaving metaphor land, and making my point: I am a firm believer that the research method and measure MUST align with the communication objective. Focus groups have become the norm, the basic cable, the regular Target, the default. And they are IDEAL for certain situations. But, as planners, we must take the time to determine exactly what we are looking to accomplish before choosing a method. If we don’t do so, we may at best – waste time and money on a method that won’t deliver. At worst, put faith in insights that are the wrong answers to the wrong questions.  


While I’ve believed this in theory for some time now, especially after a hard core investigation of the perils of copy testing and DRTV, I’m more convinced now than ever. For this week and all of next, I’ll be on the road, driving through corn country and cheese cities…doing ethnography and field work exercises with fellow RT planner, MPizzle. We’ve been able to glean insights with this method that would have taken hours to pull out of a focus group. We’ve been able to glean insights with this method that would have not been possible in a focus group. We’ve got pictures and video. We’ve got quotes and artifacts. And we’ve measured what we set out to measure.


And, of course, it’s always fun to get out of the office for a couple of days.  Now I can say faithfully, from both theory AND practice…to beware the danger of the default.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Crystal permalink*
    September 3, 2008 10:35 pm

    Well said and so true. I’m so glad you’re getting big tasty insights out there on the road.

  2. Linda Garavalia permalink
    September 5, 2008 6:30 pm

    Can’t wait to hear (and see) what surprises you the most from the road trip!

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