research world vs real world

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Why current research isn't enough


  • The Yellow Papers Series

    Research World vs.Real WorldWhy Current Research isnt Enough

  • I know you think you understand what you thought I said, but Im not sure you realize that what you heard is not what I meant - Alan Greenspan

    Isnt this an exciting time to be in communications? We spend our days trying to understand people. Then we turn this human understanding into ideas which change our clients businesses. So arent we lucky that there is so much fascinating new stuff emerging right now from so many directions- evolutionary psychology, neuroscience, network theory, behavioural economics and anthropology- all of which is transforming our understanding of us as 21st century primates.

    But at the same time, there is a bit of a problem. Its becoming clear that the research we all routinely use- to come up with strategies, and to pre-test and track our communication ideas, is the same old research weve been using for decades. So theres now a growing and worrying disconnect between what the latest science tells us about how people think and are influenced by communications in the real world, and how in the research world we attempt to understand and measure these things. Its as if the dials on our research dashboards are no longer reflecting whats going on under the bonnet (i.e. inside our brains). Were not measuring whats really going on.

    This paper isnt going to solve all our problems. Its too soon for that. But things do need to change. And we all need to be part of making this happen. Here we outline some of the issues that we all need to grapple with over the coming months and years. And then, we point to some very new ways to try to resolve this disconnect. So Letsrecaponwhatwerelearningabouthowourbrainsreallywork

    Whatsthedisconnectbetweenthesenewlearningsandhowwestilluse research today?


    Research World vs. Real World The Yellow Paper Series 02

  • Research World vs. Real World The Yellow Paper Series 03

    How Do Our Brains Really Work?This is covered in much more detail in the accompanying Do you Know Your Audience as well as you think? yellow paper. But for our purposes, heres a quick summary of the brain learnings which are important when we think about research.

    OurbrainsareledbySystem1(emotionalbrain)thinking-fast,automatic, effortless, rooted in habit and heuristics. This is the system thatresearchisnowrevealingasdominatingdecision-makingandbehaviour.Wecan,anddo,engageinSystem2(rationalbrain)thinkingslower,conscious,usuallyverbalsometimes-butonlywhen we have to. Usually we manage very nicely without it, so we dont bother. The result: we think much less than we like to think we do. As Kahnemann1said humans are to independent thinking like cats are to swimming. We can do it if we have to but wed much rather not.

    Thisleadstoasecondveryimportantthingtounderstand.Itmeanswhen it comes to the order in which things happen in our brains, we tendtoFeelDo-ThinkNOTThinkFeelDo.Soifwethinkatallabout anything, and remember often we dont, we are more than not merelypost-rationalisingwhatwehavealreadydecidedviaSystem1(theemotionalbrain).Wehumansareabsolutelybrilliantatpost-rationalising(yesnotjustplanners!).Sogood,infact,thatveryoftenwehavenoideathatthisiswhatwearedoing.Sorememberwehumansare not rational creatures but rationalising creatures.

    Becausemostdecisionsareledmostlyortotallybynon-verbalSystem1(theemotionalbrain),itfollowsthatitisverydifficultforusto understand or articulate in words why or how we have made any particular decision. Thats why, when we do verbally explain why we dosomething,itsusuallyaconvenientpost-rationalisationnottherealexplanation.Itsnotthatwerelyingweretryingreallyhardtobehelpfulbutwejustcantdoit.Assomeonesaid2, it would be like dancing about architecture.

    SarahCarterisaStrategyDirectoratDDBLondon.WithLesBinetsheco-editsallourIPAEffectivenessAwardsentries,writesamonthlycolumnforAdmapandwithLeswillberunningDDBsnewBrainLabproject.ThisisapioneeringnewjointventurewithGoldsmiths,UniversityofLondonwherebyaResearchFellowfromtheirPsychologyDepartmentwillactaspart-timeScientistinResidencewithusatDDB,helpingustocontinue to be at the forefront of understanding how communication works.

  • Research World vs. Real World The Yellow Paper Series

    Wehaveevolvedtobebrilliantcopiersofotherpeople.Weliketothinkof ourselves as highly independent, freethinking individuals, dont we? But, actually, were much more influenced by what other people say and do, than we like to admit to or are even aware of.

    AsMarkEarlssays3, we are a we species that thinks it is a me species. This is important because it means that groups of people behave in ways that are not easily predictable from the behaviour of individuals.


    TheworkofWatzlawick(anexpertincommunicationtheory)hasshed fascinating light on the important elements of communication. According to him, all communication has a content and a relationship aspect. The important bit of this theory for us is that it is the relationship bit that has the greatest influence on any communicationthatswhyhecallsitmeta-communication.

    Foralessoninthepowerofmeta-communication,rememberhowNixonwassaidtohavewonthe1960debatevs.Kennedybutonlyfor those people who heard it on radio. Those watching it on TV were moreswayedbyKennedystanandconfidentdemeanourvs.Nixonssweatandpallor,thananywordshighlightingthepowerofSystem1(theemotionalbrain).

    Inotherwordshowyousaysomethinghasmoreimpactthanwhatyou say. Anyone who has a teenager, who grunts whatever regularly, knowsexactlywhatImean!Sowhenitcomestoadvertising,thesamethingapplies.ThedominanceofSystem1(emotionalbrain)thinkinginourbrainsmeansthatitsthemeta-communicationthemusic, pace, typeface, casting, facial expressions, production values, media context, etc, which is much more influential than the words, the message, proposition, support, etc. A humbling thought when we considerhowmuchtimeanddiscussionwedevotetothose2aspectsofourcommunicationideasinourday-to-daywork.

  • OurbrainsareledbySystem1(emotionalbrain)implicitthinking.ButresearchisledbySystem2(rationalbrain)thinking.Wemerrilydo research as though rational, cognitive, verbal and logical thinking and behaviour lead us. We live by the questionnaire. We ask people rational, logical, verbal questions in a nice tidy order, then collect unquestioningly their logical, post rationalised verbal responses.

    Wearerationalising not rational creatures,asweveseen.Sowe cant help but be unreliable witnesses to our own minds and behaviour. But in research we assume that what people think, believe and feel, they can easily understand and then helpfully explain in words to a researcher. We assume that there are always good reasons for what people do. We then gratefully take these verbal responses at face value.


    Lets turn now to how we tend to do research at the moment.

    Well, by and large it seems were doing it all wrong.

    Weareawespecies,butwe research people as a me species. We ask people questions as individuals and then aggregate answers up bycomputer.Sotheresnoopportunity for people to be influenced(researchwouldcallitcontaminated)bywhatothersthink or do. But this is what happens all the time in real life. Sometimeswedoputpeopleingroupsinresearchofcourse-thefocusgroup-buttheseareartificialgroupsinartificialsittingrooms.Sothismaybeabitbetterthan individual research, but usuallywespecificallyprevent people from being in groups with the sorts of people they are most influencedbyinreallife-i.e.weactively exclude their friends, peers or family.


    Inresearchingourideas,we slavishly obsess over thecommunication(thelanguageormainmessage)at the expense of the meta-communication(thebody-languageortoneandexecution).Andyet,themeta-communication is the most important bit. We will happily spend thousands of dollars researching propositions or messages out of any context, but then balk at paying for an original sound track or a more evocative location. We believe it makes no difference to research an animatic (essentiallyanadwithallthemeta-communicationstrippedout)vs.afinishedfilm.Ioftenwonder-ifthiswerereally true why clients dont justsavethemselvesalotofunnecessary production moniesandjustruntheanimatic....

    Clearly theres some considerable room for improvement in how we use research in the future to more helpfully reflect how we humans really think, feel and behave.

    Research World vs. Real World The Yellow Paper Series

  • Sowhatsortofprinciplesshouldwebeadoptinginresearch?Thenwelllookatsomeexamplesoftheseinaction.


    WhereSystem1(emotionalbrain)thinkingisprevalent(andthisisusuallythecaseasweveseen),weneedtobemuchlessdependentonselfreportingandwords,andinsteadfindotherwaysofrevealingwhats going on under the bonnet



    Moreobservationandlessself-reportingso,forexample,thinkaboutusingethnographicresearchratherthanjustfocusgroups.Goandseewhatpeoplereallydowithyourproductsratherthanaskingthem to tell you what they do with your products.


    o Thiscouldinvolveusingspeedofresponseasameasure(seeImplicitAttitudeTestinglater)ormore