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The Balance Between Research and Creativity
By: Dwayne W. Waite Jr.
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Market research has built a bad rap in AdLand. Research in general is looked at wearingly, and it all comes from how it has been used. Both agencies and client-side marketing folks look at focus groups as annoying and pointless, and ad testing in different markets seems to add more steps than necessary. Some clients look at market research activities as a waste of their advertising spending.

To come clean, we are advocates of research. Not necessarily focus groups and market testing, but we do believe that some market research, demographic studies, or trend studies will ultimately do more good than harm in the long run. We do acknowledge, though, that some research activities can be superfluous.

A good idea based on a common concept usually does not need to be examined further than the execution. For example, Lisa Cochrane of Allstate Insurance gave a talk recently at the ANA's annual conference. She spoke about their "Mayhem" campaign, and how she had to fight tooth and nail to keep that campaign alive. During her talk at the conference, which highlighted risk, mistakes, and failure, Cochrane exclaimed that she didn't feel the need to test the ad, because she asked herself the question, "Would I want to watch those ads?"

We should all ask ourselves that question.

But was it really a gutsy call, or running a multi-million campaign based on a hunch? Of course not. The overall concept of the campaign is tried and true. The re-vamped "sinister" Cheetos campaign comes to mind as being similar. We can even look to tales and fables passed down from generations to see that this storyline is catchy. This also reminds me of Malcolm Gladwell's point in Blink; that Lisa, being a skilled advertising practitioner, didn't know exactly why it would be successful, but based on her experience, the ads that she'd seen or been a part of, she knew that it would work.

At least, we'll give her that credit.

Now that the concept is in place, the real risky move Allstate Insurance made is the execution of the story — making and running the campaign. It's easy to say that the brand has done quite well. Yes, the NY Times source quoted Cochrane saying that Mayhem will be appearing in Allstate's 2013 collateral, too.

The moral of this story is that research can only help so much. Research is needed when you're engaging in or creating a concept that not many people have seen before or are used to. When implementing a common concept, not that much research will probably be needed. And no research can help a brand or agency execute a well-run campaign. Just because you have the information, doesn't mean it'll work.

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About the Author
Dwayne W. Waite Jr. is partner and principal at JDW: The Charlotte Agency, a marketing and advertising shop in Charlotte, NC. He enjoys consumer behavior, economics, and football.
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