Why are we falling behind in understanding the consumer?
When ads are great they're not only great ads, they're tiny, uplifting "codes" inserted into the bloodstream of culture that change both culture and our lives: they cure the status quo. But great ads, for the most part, are hard to come by. While most industry professionals know the reasons, they don't know how to do things differently. Or, in a few cases, they just don't want to rock the boat.
In general, by changing just one word (and following through on its meaning) this quagmire can be filled in by something that provides a firmer industry footing: The word "consumer" needs to be banished (in practice) and replaced by "people."
We put people into too small of a box -- the box labeled "consumer." Consumers have "hot buttons," can be shouted at by spin meisters and a priori are relegated to the bin of less-than-intelligent impulse buyers.
It's similar to the D.C.-Beltway phenomenon -- all the politicos talking to themselves and whipping each other up into a frenzy with theories that are completely at odds with what real people "think-feel" (neuroscience now tells us those two things are really one thing).
People are artful image gatherers. They're smarter and more human than we give them credit for. They buy into things that fit their own brand of emotional logic. And they're all living what John Updike called, "the gallant, battered ongoingness of life." Attention and respect must be paid. Life embodies a delicate complexity of feeling.
That we don't give people their due is largely because our methods of inquiry are so self-limiting they produce nothing more than what we decry: an endless litany of superficial, top-of-mind opinions. To begin with, before anyone walks into an interview or focus group, clients ask for a "discussion guide." Does life have a discussion guide?
Next, forget a "moderator." The questioner should be a "loving interrogator." Why ask what people like or dislike about a product? Instead, people should be given the time and leeway to spin their tale about their own behavior and experience, and how they account and justify for that in the context of how they view life in general and their life in particular.
Only then can you get to the mundane eloquence in and on peoples' minds. An example: A 36-year-old woman from Kansas City, referring to the current context of the high-tech world, said, "Things are always advancing, getting better, sometimes for the worse."
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