The Sell: Bricks Are Heavy


I hated the movie Indecent Proposal, but i did like one particular scene: When Woody Harrelson's character returns to teaching architecture, he holds up a brick and says, "A common ordinary brick wants to be something more than it is."

A brick is no more than just a cement block, but with the right architect it can be a soaring cathedral. Similarly, research is only as good as you use it. It must be applied with precision and skill. A long time ago, at a very large agency, I helped defend an AOR assignment for a large CPG client. Our big shot research guru stood up to present the company's proprietary research tools.Midway through his speech, the client's media director interjected with, "Yes, that's great, but we don't use any of that shit." Sadly, she was right; they didn't.

The tricky, not-so-obvious thing about research tools, proprietary or otherwise, is that you must actually use them. Clients rarely hand the agency a clean slate. Usually they have preconceived notions about where they want to place their advertising, especially with TV. In my case, the brand managers simply knew what they wanted. Right or wrong, they were tied to certain TV shows on cable. Certainly they did not want a super computer telling them where to advertise. This is the reality of advertising. When it comes to media selection, our emotional connections count just as much as the quantitative analysis.

We must be practical when using proprietary research. While too much data is never bad, it is useless if it is not actionable. Even in today's 3.14159265-multimedia universe, creative concepts are still often developed without the context of media planning. It is not uncommon for creative production to be in full swing by the time media planning begins in earnest. And by that time, the horses have already left the barn.

Eventually, the rubber meets the road, and the planning turns into buying. Then we see quite the opposite: not enough information. Too often media buyers don't get full access to the consumer research. Rather than reams of insight, media buyers are handed a basic gender/age target and the juicy morsels of data are lost in translation. Research is equally useless if it cannot be ported from one department to another.

Research that's too esoteric cannot possibly be implemented. "Left-handed men who live in the suburbs with right-handed wives and blond kids" does not work as a TV-buying target. That is a fundamental disconnect. It might be helpful in terms of coloring in the program selection, but by itself it misses a fundamental understanding of TV buying. This is the challenge of applying consumer segmentation in a realistic manner.

Adroit agencies balance theory and reality by over-communicating. They talk and talk and then, when everyone understands, talk some more. This means status meetings with input from every department. It is never too early to get the buyers involved, or too late to question the creative. More than anything else, talking to each other elucidates the campaign truth.

For sure, sometimes egos get in the way. But working together is how we push forward to really new ideas. Cross-department collaboration is more vital than ever in the new media economy. The research that drives the creative ideation must apply equally to the channel-buying process.

Implementing research is the most difficult part of the campaign birthing process. Sometimes we need to leave one clever idea on the cutting room floor because it does not jibe with the greater insight. Remember, the tactics must reflect the strategy. Constantly ask yourself if each piece of the puzzle fits within the over-arching premise. If you get sick of quoting your own research then you are probably on the right track.

We don't work in a vacuum. There are many stakeholders in the planning process and each has a separate set of opinions and philosophies. Logic is important, for sure, but that is just part of it. After all, we are emotionally driven human beings, not the logical Vulcans from Star Trek. The agency's job is to unify the decision makers and create achievable results.

My Dad, a veterinarian, once tried to re-brick our backyard patio. Though he did far better than I could have, it was still a disaster. We had to pay someone to redo the whole job. Only a master craftsman can build a gorgeous patio. Research is like a brick: it is only as good as you use it.

Andrew Ettinger is the director of interactive media at RJ Palmer Media Services. (

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