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    This is the personal blog of Simon Kendrick and covers my interests in media, technology and popular culture. All opinions expressed are my own and may not be representative of past or present employers
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The conversation doesn’t have to be continuous

apple new beginning
Photo by http://www.flickr.com/photos/benjamin_ellis/

A strange thing happened when I met up with an old friend recently. He mentioned that he had deliberately avoided me online in the time leading up to our drink, so that “we would have something to talk about”. By not reading my blog or browsing my Facebook profile, he felt he wouldn’t pre-empt any possible conversations.

After being initially perplexed, this started to make a lot of sense. There are far too many “I saw you did this..” and “So how was that…” conversations. There is no intrigue or surprise. Knowledge may be supplemented or consolidated, but it is essentially repeating the same thing.

Breaks can therefore be a good thing. And I believe this theory can be applied to both advertising and research

1. Advertising, particularly TV advertising

In the same way that television series come and go in seasons, could adverts? This isn’t really such a jump. Only the biggest brands are on TV continuously, and then it is rare that it is the same product that is being advertised.

Why not announce your advertising schedule? For seasonal products – whether they be sun cream or mittens – a defined schedule may already be in place (allowing for some contingency over weather fluctuations). But I see no reason why this couldn’t apply to products, particularly ubiquitous FMCGs. Teaser campaigns in the lead-up can stir interest, and the finale can conclude a conversation that develops over the course of the campaign.

There are of course considerations of competitor activity “spoiling” this notion, factoring in the asymmetrical information into a game theory model. But choosing whether to buy a Ripple or a Flake is only as zero sum as deciding whether to watch Casualty or Pushing Daisies on a Saturday night. The likelihood is that only one will be consumed at that time, but catch-up creates plenty of opportunities to consume both over a longer period. And when the choice pops up next time, the consumer will be in a position to prioritise the preferred good.

2. Market research, particularly online panels

This theory may be impractical for many brands but it is highly pertinent to market researchers. Respondent fatigue is a big problem in the industry. Too many people being over-researched. So, longitudinal studies aside, why not provide the option of an explicit opt-out or a time out (rather than a non-response)?

This could be in the form of an option in the community profile page, a screener or a message in a newsletter. Offering prize draw entries across the period of the time-out could compensate for a lack of incentives accrued.

And if the first survey in the “new season” were deliberately chosen to contain new and interesting questions, rather than the same-old dull-but-necessary-for-tracking-purposes, then a fresh conversation with a rejuvenated respondent could begin on strong footing.

A break could even be constructed around times of necessary technical maintenance or upgrades. An announced break would provide time for the new systems to put in place. And when the research starts back up again, respondents are greeted with a new and improved system, emphasising the fresh beginning.

Done correctly, I can see this being a powerful panel management tool that can improve response and enjoyment among those that are becoming disillusioned with the same old process.



3 Responses

  1. Very interesting. Of course, your friend’s attitude implies that one puts everything about one’s life online. I’m an avid Facebooker, LJer, Twitterer and all the rest of it, but there are vast swathes of stuff that never go on the net (“oooh, look at me I have such a richly enormous life if could never possibly all fit on the internet”, etc.)

    The problem with teaser campaigns is they have to have a good reveal at the end. I’m thinking of Godzilla in, what, 1998, which ran teasers from around a year ahead of release boasting about how big and scary their film was. Then it turned out it wasn’t. Although I suppose that’s the product manufacturer’s problem – the marketing people have done their job in getting people excited. For a film, this doesn’t matter so much if you restrict advance screenings and thus get a huge opening weekend – people have paid for and seen the film, whether they liked it or not (though you’ve damaged your DVD/merch sales). But for any kind of ongoing product, a teaser that gets everyone all excited and then turns out to be – I don’t know – a new type of Mars Bar, or something else totally uninspiring, is presumably risking letting down their consumers in a big way?

  2. Thanks Catherine. Very true about deciding on the level of information to put out. But in my experience, people – and brands – tend to broadcast the most interesting aspects of themselves. Whether photos of holidays or competitions to win a PS3, the stuff we most want to talk about tends to be stuff we have already talked about.

    And you make a good point about product quality. Another film example would be Snakes on a Plane (which I mentioned in my post on hype here). As David Taylor would say, you need the sausage to match the sizzle. Or, you need a decent product to match the hype (see: Innocent Smoothies, or the iPod).

    With Mars bars, knowing what to expect can be advantageous. Product tinkering for the sake of it can be disastrous – look what happened when Coke changed their recipe in the 80s. Teaser campaigns don’t necessarily need to be about the product (see Cadbury’s Gorilla, which boosted sales of a product that hadn’t changed). The same product, but with a new campaign/riff can remind people of the brand values (ick) that they would have been spared from while the campaign took a break.


  3. I really like the idea of narrativising the panel experience. I was involved in planning a survey recently and trying to work out how to get a low-attention audience to fill in a really complex questionnaire. One idea we had was to organise it around a “break” halfway through with interesting questions organised around the gap, and another was to have ‘teasers’ at the bottom of individual survey pages trailing upcoming questions to prevent drop-out rates.

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