Y&R Study Reveals Consumers' Hidden Side

Consumers are hiding their most important desires and motivations from marketers -- and maybe even from themselves, according to “Secrets & Lies,” a new global research study from Young & Rubicam. 

The study -- conducted in the U.S., Brazil and China -- finds that many consumers hold views that are the opposite of what they say. It also identifies a new consumer mainstream who are comfortable with their own contradictory attitudes.

The study is unusual in its melding of two research approaches: Traditional survey research, which reveals what people think consciously, and indirect questioning, using an approach called Implicit Association that reveals unconscious motivations -- the deep drives that operate outside of our conscious awareness.  



Consumers hide their motivations. Although they claim that achieving “meaning in life” is their most important value (#1 global ranking consciously), unconsciously “sexual fulfillment” ranks #1, says Chip Walker, the Y&R executive vice president who directed the study. 

While sex definitely sells, provocative advertising doesn’t always test well, Walker tells Marketing Daily.

“Absolutely, sex sells -- but it probably won’t copy test well, assuming you are using a traditional copy test,” he says. “That’s because consciously, people are uncomfortable admitting how motivating sex is.”

Consumers’ deep inner motivations are often the opposite of what they report. For example, in the U.S., “helpfulness” ranks as the #1 value consciously, but is at the bottom of the heap (#16) unconsciously.

In fact, American’s top conscious values (helpfulness, choosing your own path, meaning of life) are reminiscent of Oprah, while our top unconscious values (maintaining security, sexual fulfillment, respect for tradition) seem more reminiscent of Tony Soprano.

What people say and what they really feel are often two very different things. Marketers have known that instinctively, and it explains why some campaigns that seemed on the mark felt flat in the marketplace. 

A few years ago Heineken did a campaign themed “Give yourself a good name” that was about improving one’s image by having “good character.” It was targeting Millennials who say in focus groups that they value being a “good person” and hate “status.” 

“So you’d think the campaign would work great, but it bombed in market,” Walker says.

Heineken followed up with their current “Open your world” ads featuring a wild, dancing young James Bond-like guy -- which is much more about traditional status. 

“And it’s been a huge success in market, though I doubt it focus-grouped well,” he adds.

Consumers have secret brand crushes and silent brand grudges. Theyactually like “popular” brands like Google and Microsoft a lot less than they say. And they like less popular brands Exxon and the National Enquirer a lot more than they say.

Many brands that are well-liked consciously fall considerably in the rankings unconsciously. For example, Google is ranked #2 consciously, but #13 of 14 brands unconsciously.

The top 10 conscious brands are Amazon, Google, Apple, Target, Whole Foods, Starbucks, McDonald's, Facebook, AT&T and Prius. That contrasts with the order of the top 10 brands consumers favor unconsciously: Target, Amazon, Facebook, Whole Foods, National Enquirer, Exxon, McDonald's, Apple, Starbucks and AT&T.

The research reveals that many people have contradictory attitudes, Walker says.

“We think that brands need to understand both conscious and unconscious attitudes,” Walker says. “As our research shows, they each tell us something different, so we need both to fully understand today’s more idiosyncratic consumer.” 

Many leading brands are exploring unconscious understanding, he said. Campbells is one. Millward Brown (the leading ad testing company) recently built unconscious learning into their TV testing product.  

“I believe it’s the wave of the future,” he says.

Some consumers find this state of inner conflict stressful and overwhelming. But the Y&R study shows that a large and growing group, which they call “Generation World,” takes these contradictions in stride. 

This is reflected in the top five conscious attitudes revealed in the research -- each with over 50% of the global total agreeing. These attitudes all reflect a comfort level with a fluid, evolving, multifaceted identity.

Respondents who agree most strongly with these attitudes -- 42% of the global sample -- represent a new mainstream who are multifaceted, complex and evolving. This group, which Y&R calls “Generation World,” is found in all three countries surveyed (China, Brazil and the U.S.) and is characterized by being more digitally savvy than other respondents.

But they don’t feel that marketers “get” them. Only 29% of survey respondents globally “approve of the ways marketers and advertisers portray people like me.”  Just 11% in the U.S. feel that way. 

There are three big implications for marketers, Walker says.

They should rethink traditional research. Marketers who rely on traditional surveys and focus groups alone are probably misleading themselves.

They should also rethink traditional targeting.

As marketers we typically put target audiences into uniform segments and expect them to behave in consistent ways (soccer moms drive a minivan and wear mom jeans),” he says. “This research indicates she is much more complex than that.”

Finally, they should re-think traditional positioning.

“We’ve been programed to believe that ‘single-mindedness’ is the foundation of all good branding,” he says. “Yet this research shows consumers aren’t singular today. It may sound like heresy but is it time brands move away from the single-minded idea and embrace conflict and tension?”

3 comments about "Y&R Study Reveals Consumers' Hidden Side".
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  1. Elissa Moses from Ipsos, September 19, 2013 at 9:06 a.m.

    Nice work Chip! This is groundbreaking!

  2. Erica Martinez from Saatchi & Saatchi Wellness, September 19, 2013 at 11:25 a.m.

    Really interesting, compelling work. Eager to see where this goes next and how this thinking is taken advantage of.

  3. Jamie Dunham from Jamie Dunham | Brand Solutions, September 21, 2013 at 3:12 p.m.

    This dichotomy of reality vs. research has long been played out in the brand world. Nice to see some research that recognizes the contradictions.

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