Wednesday, May 27, 2015

When Hate is Good.

How do I know an idea is good?

I know it, when someone hates it.

Last week I was driving to the Sport Chalet in Marina del Rey. On the way home, on picturesque Alla Drive, there is a Focus Group facility. The same facility I used to attend with great regularity, when I was a staffer. The same facility, where thanks to my big, unfiltered mouth, I cavalierly blew $25,000 worth of BBDO research money.

We were conducting two groups and testing some concepts we were going to pitch in a heavily contested battle for LA Cellular, a large and now defunct telecom.

The first group was a disaster. Of Hindenburgian proportion.

Before the second group commenced, I went to get some much needed coffee. As I was refilling my cup, I turned to the moderator and blurted:

"Send in the next bunch of losers."

Unaware, perhaps, that the next bunch of losers were sitting in the adjacent room. The room with the open door. The room that was filled with people who could hear the cap being torn off the little creamer and poured into my awaiting cup. Yeah, those losers.

The night didn't end well.
Our ideas for the pitch didn't go well.
And my short stint at BBDO grew even shorter.

You might assume from this little anecdote that I have no love for Focus Groups. And I don't. But in hindsight I know the problem isn't about research. It's about how clients interpret research.

Let's say Concept A is shown to a group of folks who have nothing better to do on a Tuesday night than to sit with a bunch of demographically similar people and judge prospective TV commercials which they will dutifully fast forward through on their DVRs. And let's say 90% of the group likes Concept A. And 10% of the group doesn't like it.

Let's also say that these same people, who seem very content with crappy lasagna and free M&M's are shown Concept B.

The response here is more visceral. 60% of the group hates it and would, if they could, throat punch the creators of the Concept B until they begged for mercy. The other 40% of the group love the idea and might even consider tweeting about it.

Well, marketing executives are like Doomsday Preppers. They will do anything to insure their survival.

So when it comes time to decide, they're going with their mortgages, their private school tuitions and their $299 a month lease payments on their new Lexus GS; they're going with Concept A.

After all, 90% of the people polled liked it. You can't argue with that. If my phone were 90% charged or my daughter got a 90% on a history test or my brake pads still had 90%, I'd be thrilled.

But in the arena of mass communication, of breaking through the clutter, of intentionally polarizing people in order to get a reaction or influence behavior, a tepid 90% is 100% wrong.

If it were up to me, and for a thousand good reasons it never is, I'd go with Concept B. Or, to misquote John Lennon, "Hate is all we need."

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