Advertising Agencies and Market Research
Rod Davies, Orient Pacific Century
February 12th 2000
Why can't advertising agencies and market researchers just get on?
One answer of course is that they attract very different people. Advertising agencies attract creative people, often innovators and independent thinkers that also often lack pragmatic and rational thinking. On the other hand, market research agencies attract a different sort of person - methodical and objective, often more introvert, detail-minded and conservative in outlook. Advertising agencies think they can do the research better than the market research agencies, and market research agencies think they can do the advertising better than the advertising agencies. Sometimes agencies do combine the two - and usually to their peril. Research departments within advertising agencies often lack power, and crumble under the pressure of their more extravert advertising colleagues at meetings. The reverse is true with Research based organizations who venture into advertising.
The situation is even more pronounced in Asia, where society is more traditional and conservative, and usually does not encourage change or innovation. Advertising agencies can become a refuge for innovators who may quickly become out of touch with the realities of the world outside. Research agencies can become lazy and moribund as they find it easier and more comfortable to follow the traditional line.
Two recent incidents in Thailand come to mind, without mentioning company names or products. One was an advertisement depicting drunken provincial governors hosting partners where a well known brand on Thai beer was being consumed in large quantities. The ad drew a lot of attention, (good for the advertising agency in one respect because publicity is integral to a campaigns goals. However such was the negative public reaction, that the ad was withdrawn, causing some embarrassment to the advertiser. A more recent example was a TV ad campaign encouraging people to vote for upcoming elections, where popular soap-opera stars, some well known for their portrayal of philandering roles on the idiot box, were used to endorse the campaign. Feminists especially, were upset at the seeming government-approved publicity of such lifestyles.
Both incidents could have been avoided with the type of ad testing that research agencies are particularly adept at doing and advertising agencies regard as a "secondary" activity.
Some companies thrive on controversial ads, top of the mind being European companies that use under age models, nudity, and blasphemy in their ads. The ads probably do them more good than harm - but that is Europe and this is Asia. Plus the companies were in industries (usually fashion) which is fairly resilient to traditional and conservative views.
It may be difficult for the extravert, creative people who make up advertising agencies to listen to market researchers whose research suggests that a wonderfully original and unique ad dreamed up around the creative directors board table may cause negative reaction, and similarly it is difficult for researchers to get excited by new and paradigm challenging ideas.
Yet, come together we must. Simple management skills are the answer - the ability to listen, to consult regularly, and be patient with the guy whose head is always in the clouds or the guy who you would never choose to paint the town red with. Put aside your professional hat for a while and ask yourself how good your management skills are. Do you dismiss ideas not because of their content, but because you don't personally like the conveyor of those ideas?
Rod Davies is principal of Orient Pacific Century Market Research, which specialises in market research in Asian markets. Market Research Graffiti is a regular column on issues of interest to the market research community. Contributions are very welcome here.