1. Don’t give people what they want—give them what they never believed possible. A considerable amount of research is structured to seek conceptual permission from consumers. But given the chance, most consumers are going to revert to familiar constructs and ideas. As Dan points out in this interview, the most powerful work is stuff that people never saw coming.
2. Research early, research late, boycott the middle. Conducted in the right way, research can be a powerful enabler of creativity. We love exploratory research—research with influencers and opinion-leaders, ethnographies—anything and everything that can lead to stronger, more insightful briefs. When it comes to the creative itself, however, we rarely test animatics or ideas prior to production. An ad isn’t an ad until it’s done and a storyboard just isn’t going to do the work the justice it deserves (see #3).
3. Animatics are scary (a.k.a. production = magic). W+K strongly believes in high-production values. Directors, editors, producers, talent—all of these pieces can elevate and transform an idea from the page. Testing an idea in animatic form ignores the creative contribution these folks bring to the party and fails to account for the magic that typically happens on set. I shudder at the thought of “The Man Your Man Could Smell Like” as an animatic. The idea would have never made it out alive.
4. An “acceptable” ad is unacceptable. Be provocative, entertaining, polarizing, and disruptive. Have a point of view. Move someone. Do something that people will talk about, debate and discuss. Take, for example, the latest LeBron spot. My least favorite focus group maneuver is to ask for a show of hands to see how many people liked an ad, as if this metric is the ultimate barometer for success.
5. No diagnostic or predictive test is better than the real world. One of the most exciting aspects of the new media landscape is that you can experiment with lots of different ideas and executions at a relatively low cost. If we live in a world where engagement and shareability are key, then why is most research conducted in solitary confinement with positioning statements or half-baked concepts? To truly understand an idea’s potential you have to make something and release it into the world.