While the initiative was sparked by new scientific learning, one of Madison Avenue's top research minds said it also presages a new paradigm shift in the control of the marketing process.
"I see a new power emerging. The customer, the consumer, or the public is emerging as a power," Joseph Plummer, executive vice president-director of research & insight development for the McCann Worldgroup, said while announcing the initiative during Tuesday's session of the Advertising Research Foundation conference in New York.
According to Plummer, this would be the third significant paradigm shift to occur during the modern history of mass marketing. The first occurred during the 1960s through the 1980s, when mass marketers and mass media outlets controlled the information flow. The second occurred from the 1990s to date when mega retailers and mega media companies controlled the process. By 2010, Plummer predicted consumers would be in charge.
The research effort, which is being coordinated by the ARF and backed by the American Association of Advertising Agencies, will have three phases. The first will be a compilation of current state of knowledge about how the mind works, which is being done by Gerald Zaltman, a Harvard Business School professor, author of the book "How Customers Think," and an acknowledged expert in the field.
The second phase will incorporate new research from a half dozen leading advertising research companies, as well as a half dozen emerging firms, that are intended to expand the "measures of story-telling campaigns," a process that researchers believe is how consumers process and incorporate advertising and brand messages.
The third phase will focus on the "co-creation of stories," which researchers believe will be the future of ad communication. During the co-creation process, consumers receive an ad message, incorporate it with their "existing thought structure, and "create new meaning," said Zaltman, who gave a rousing presentation during the ARF conference that seemed to inspire a good amount of thinking among the ARF attendees.
Zaltman, whose work is influencing the advertising plans of Procter & Gamble, General Motors, IBM and others, said the shift that has taken place in neuroscience over the last ten years suggests that much of the "tacit or explicit knowledge" that Madison Avenue has about the way consumers process advertising "has expired."
In a follow-up presentation, Keith Reinhard, chairman of DDB Worldwide, and a chief guardian of Madison Avenue's creative process, bristled at the notion that neuro researchers might create a "new set of rules" for ad agencies to create ads around. While he said he welcomed "new learning," he argued the creative process should be left to the creatives. "Artists have always intuitively known this. That's why they are artists," Reinhard countered, referring to Madison Avenue's implicit understanding of the role between emotions and advertising.
He suggested that the best measurement of whether that is working or not is the one that "happens at the cash register."
Later, Leanne Hensley, senior manager-advertising research, at Procter & Gamble, acknowledged that P&G was moving in this "direction," noting that the marketer has recently grown concerned about its focus on "ROI" (return on investment) measures that are focused primarily on sales, and less so on the consumer experience with advertising messages.
"We feared we may lose this component as we go along," she said advocating a new description of ROI that has also become popular in some media agency circles: "Return on involvement."