How crowd sourcing, neuroscience and behavioural economics are changing everything… or maybe not

Baubles 4

TV is dead. The world is in Beta. It’s all about multi-screening. What’s our ‘social’ strategy? Crowd sourcing is the way forward. ‘Advertising’ is dead.

The world of marketing and communications can’t get enough of Bright Shiny Baubles. Ours is a business in thrall to the new, the different, the ‘sexy’. And marketing’s nerdy cousin, market research, is much the same.

Come here my excited, wide-eyed, child; sit on my knee while I tell you a story (or three) about The Next Big Thing.

1 Crowd sourcing

I had a coffee with a client who I hadn’t seen in a while. Among other things, she told me about the exciting new work they had been doing over the last couple of years, directly with consumers, using ‘Crowd Sourcing’ and ‘Virtual Communities’ to help create and develop new product concepts. She told me how insightful it was proving to be, and what great ideas they had developed already.

So I asked when they expected to launch the first of these new concepts. “Ah, well,” she said, “we haven’t actually got anything to launch yet… but we’re really excited about it.”

That was two years ago. Today, I am still waiting for their first crowd-sourced concept to be launched.

2 Neuroscience

Over lunch a couple of weeks ago, I was talking to another client about the use of Neuroscience in ad research and he told me enthusiastically about the test project they had conducted with a specialist Neuroscience research company, looking at one of the TV ads that I had helped them develop in qual research. The results had been fascinating – the way you could see parts of the brain ‘light up’ at specific points in the commercial. It seemed they were able to draw some pretty clear conclusions about how specific moments of the ad provoked different kinds of responses, positive and negative.

This all sounded like great stuff, so I asked if the company was going to be using the technique, beyond this test. It turned out they had no plans to do so: the test was fascinating, but they couldn’t see a way of utilising it in their advertising development. The research could only be conducted on finished films, since the really insightful findings showed how specific expressions or gestures were creating the significant ‘neuro’ impacts, and these would of course not be present until a finished commercial was in the can.

The real value of the learning – theoretically at least – would be in building up a body of knowledge about how different types of body language, action and relationships on screen could affect viewer response. In practice, it was incredibly difficult to identify how this could be achieved and then to find a way of ensuring that this knowledge would be used. Indeed, it seemed that the people who would benefit most from this understanding would be the directors of TV commercials.

This isn’t going to happen any time soon.

3 Behavioural Economics

Last week I had a coffee with a client who told me how excited they were about Behavioural Economics. They had run a small ‘laboratory’ test with a specialist BE agency to compare responses to an initiative they had previously run with those to an alternative iteration that they had decided against. The results showed a significant difference that could be directly attributed to key BE factors.

Now, I’m a huge fan of BE, and its principles inform much of my thinking when it comes to exploring responses to ideas, analysing those responses and considering their implications when making recommendations to my clients. So I was interested to know how the client was applying these findings and rolling the principles of BE out into the business.

The answer: it’s not. The practical realities of running live tests with different communications pieces to explore differential response rates are too challenging for the business to handle. Additionally, there is no inclination to take on the commercial ‘risk’ of running a ‘sub-optimal’ approach with a segment of the market in order to find out which approach would be most effective.

Curious, isn’t it? 3 exciting new techniques; 3 excited clients; 3 examples where there was a lot of noise… and no action.

To listen to the cacophony within the worlds of advertising, marketing and market research, you’d think everyone was at it: Crowd Sourcing, building Virtual Communities, using Behavioural Economics, investing in Neuroscience technology. The truth, of course, is rather different. Yes, it’s brilliant, fascinating stuff and thank goodness people are investing in experimenting with these ideas, because their potential is immense. But until we can work out their practical application and, critically, until they are able to meet our needs better than our familiar, dull, ‘conventional’ approaches, these technologies remain just Bright Shiny Baubles.

I’m looking forward to seeing the emperor once he’s found some clothes. Until then, I think I’ll carry on doing stuff that gives results we can use to make positive progress.

Now, there’s an original idea.

This entry was posted in Advertising, Brand positioning, Brand strategy, Communications, Consumer insight, Creative development, Market research, Marketing, Qualitative research and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to How crowd sourcing, neuroscience and behavioural economics are changing everything… or maybe not

  1. Great piece; thanks for posting it.


  2. Dan Thornton says:

    I agree that often agencies and clients will jump on the latest bandwagon to grab cash in the excitement without it actually being practical.

    But I’d disagree that the concept of crowdsourcing hasn’t been proven to work in various ways, such as the Oxford English Dictionary, Youtube, 99Designs, Kickstarter, etc.

    There will always be good and bad examples of any popular new term, but whether or not something ships is often down to the collection of people involved, rather than the techniques itself…


  3. gthebash says:

    Speaking as a Kickstarter investor myself, I wouldn’t disagree that crowdsourcing can work, Dan. My intention is merely to remind us all to pause for a moment and reflect on whether what we are being sold is snake oil or may be useful and relevant in our specific circumstances. You are so right, and it is one of my core beliefs, that the idea is more important than the method.


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