Back to reality

The most valuable insights come from actions, not words, says Matt Michaud, global provocation director for insight and innovation at Elmwood

Sponsored by Elmwood


“The trouble with market research,” said the legendary ad man David Ogilvy, “is that people don’t think how they feel, they don’t say what
they think and they don’t do what they say.”

There has always been a healthy level of insight-scepticism floating around the creative industries, and Ogilvy is not the only one to have questioned the merits of market research. As much as we’d challenge the sweeping nature of his statement, the sentiment is not misguided. A great deal of research on research has demonstrated that what people say they do and what they actually do are often two very different things.

In 2013 you’d be hard pushed to find clients that don’t believe in the power of insight – be it consumer, category or business-led. The ubiquitous research methodologies, toolkits and best practices testify to that, but the truth is that the vast majority of ‘insight tools’ are merely tweaks or permutations of others.

At Elmwood, and our sister agency Tin Horse, we have one simple, overriding belief – keeping it real. In order to unlock genuine, valuable insight, you need to spend time with real people, in real situations, using real things. As for Ogilvy’s point, we agree that to gather innovation insights, observing what people do rather than asking them what they do is infinitely more valuable.

This is why, when sausage-maker Heck asked us to redefine its brand architecture and bring to life its vision of “mashing rural lifestyle with urban attitude”, we turned to our global network of studios to get up close and personal with the culinary meeting point of rural and urban.

Visits to city farms in Brooklyn and the hawkers of Singapore led us to the insights needed to flesh out an engaging brand vision and personality, from “the goodness and integrity of the countryside to the pulse and pace of the city”.

Providing realistic context is, of course, only part of the equation. The challenge then becomes how to take those reality-grounded insights and build them into a strong innovation story. We use three guiding principles to take our clients, consumers and ourselves on that journey.

Pushing boundaries

When you’re developing a brand or product for the future, exploring mass behaviour can certainly paint a picture of the starting point but it can also limit your horizons and cramp your creativity.

In pushing boundaries and looking to the fringes for insight – be that ethnographic interviews in South African townships to understand the resourceful relationship the underprivileged have with mobile technology, or forcing people in the UK to use both giant and tiny tissue sizes in their home – we have been able to help consumers reappraise current habitual behaviour.

Crucially, for the Kleenex Slim Pack initiative, by forcing consumers to use and live with both over and undersized tissues, Tin Horse was able to drive niche or extreme practices that opened up fresh thinking and solutions to the existing barriers. In this case, particularly, it sparked provocative discussion around usage occasions, storage and functionality, uncovering fundamental truths about how and why tissues are useful. It was these underlying insights that pointed the team towards the importance of discretion. The solution was surprisingly simple: thinking big by acting small.

We then had to put our heads together with the brand and factory teams to ensure that all the commercial, sustainable and usage targets were being hit. Collaboratively, we made it happen – and in addition to providing a number of consumer benefits, the innovation brought about a 30 per cent reduction in packaging and a 28 per cent reduction in carbon emissions.

Visits to Brooklyn and Singapore inspired a fresh brand vision for sausage-maker Heck

Playing to win

In 1938, Dutch cultural historian Johan Huizinga wrote the book Homo Ludens (‘He Who Plays’), which explores the belief that play is a necessary condition for culture. “Play is distinct from ‘ordinary’ life, both as to locality and duration,” he notes. It is this sense of temporary detachment that is so valuable in the world of innovation.

By displacing people from their habitual mindsets and behavioural codes, we can create the conceptual space we need to challenge and think beyond contemporary behaviour.

Getting the players on the field is, naturally, only the beginning. They now need to know what they’re playing and which props are at their disposal. For example, Elmwood and Tin Horse’s combined techniques challenged Durex and its consumers to move from a ‘safe sex’ territory to ‘better sex’ and, finally, ‘sexual wellbeing’. Through role-play, clients and consumers were given carte blanche to imagine what a sexual foreplay product could look like. Interestingly,
the teams kept coming back to massage. This led to the dome-shaped top of the Durex Play massage gel bottle, which doubles as a massage tool.

Show vs tell

The expression ’seeing is believing’ dates from the 17th century and highlights the extent to which humans are visual beings. While much marketing thought happens and is shared on a conceptual level, we live in an increasingly ‘show, don’t tell’ world, where both consumers and clients can often only appreciate the full innovative quality of ideas by seeing them in the flesh.

It was this observation that prompted Elmwood and Tin Horse to integrate their respective Prototyping Insight and Build to Learn tools into the innovation process. Rather than observing consumers using existing category products, we began prototyping our own – often extreme – alternatives to see how their behaviour changed.

Carrying out research for a brief on a steroid-based pharmaceutical, the team fell upon the insight that many people have an irrational aversion to steroids. To bring this to life, Tin Horse turned up to its presentation with a realistic-looking toy tarantula in a glass jar. After they’d opened it, and the screaming client team had returned to their seats, their insight had the participants’ undivided attention.

With 50 years of experience combined, Elmwood and Tin Horse believe only real insights can lead to real innovation. If you are dedicated to shaping the future, you must push the boundaries of how people think. Play is the most universal vehicle to unlocking creativity, and nothing can sell an innovation idea better than a tangible object.

Our insight work is carried out predominantly on a global level, ensuring the insights are more rounded and forward-thinking, producing designs and branding that will stand up in an increasingly international marketplace.

Matt Michaud
Global provocation director

19-23 Fitzroy Street
London W1T 4BP

T: 020 7637 0884

Twitter: @ElmwoodUK



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