Questioning the nature of research [research-live.com] – Ogilvy Group UK vice chairman Rory Sutherland advocates for context-based research to inform advertising, which is mostly served now by traditional quantitative market or survey research methodologies. We are messy beings, and straight-forward research approaches yield neat numbers that have nothing to do with the reality of decision making. This is preaching to the choir on this forum, but the interview is chock full of quotables! In the end, he calls for research that gets closer to people, and for an experimental approach to developing marketing and advertising.
No-one in any research group would ever say, “If there are four brands of shampoo, I’ll buy the one that has most bottles on the shelf”, or “I’ll choose the one that’s on the third shelf up because it’s the one that doesn’t require much reaching down” or “I’ll look at the prices of three products and choose the one in the middle.” In reality, we use heuristics and shortcuts and cognitively miserliness like this all the time. The mistake that quite a lot of advertising methodologies make is assuming that brand preference translates perfectly into purchase behaviour. It’s also making the assumption, of course, that preference is formed in advance of behaviour. Quite a lot of evidence from both behavioural sciences and from neuroscience suggests that we act first and form our opinions in light of our actions.
I think the way we think we decide and the way we actually decide don’t have that much in common. The conscious rational brain isn’t the Oval Office; it isn’t there making executive decisions in our minds. It’s actually the press office issuing explanations for actions we’ve already taken.
I’m emphatically not downplaying the importance of fame, awareness, mental availability – whatever you want to call it. What I would downplay is detailed dissections of consumers stated reasons for adopting or planning to adopt a particular course of action.
Quite often, people within a group will pretend they are a maximiser, when most of our decisions are taken as satisficers. We always claim in the presence of others that we are great connoisseurs looking for the best value for money we can find, but most of the time we simply don’t have the mental energy for that. It would be an insane use of our mental resources in any case. So what we do is look for something that is pretty much guaranteed not to be crap. That’s why in some ways you can never quite make sense of the popularity of McDonalds. Everybody, whenever you talk about food, they’ll always talk bullshit about health and Italy and olive oil. But actually, when it comes to eating, what we want is a place that won’t rip us off, won’t give us food poisoning, the toilets will be clean, the service will be OK, and everything will be pretty good. Paul Dolan, the government’s wellbeing adviser, says: “Nothing is as important as we think it is when we’re thinking about it”.