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Next Gen Research: New Techniques, Neuro Nonsense & The Hidden Persuaders

John Kearon, founder and "chief juicer" of BrainJuicer, on the next generation of research techniques and the missteps and missed opportunities along the way to the future of insights.


Editor’s Note: We are thrilled that today launches the first of what we hope will be many content collaborations with Warc – the global provider of ideas and evidence for marketing people. If you are not a religious follower of Warc then you are missing out; they are one of my daily destinations for news and content.  Here is a brief summary from their website.

“Warc combines current new thinking and trends with best practice so that you can make the most informed decisions about your marketing strategy, with access to over 6,000 award-winning case studies, in-depth trend analysis, and research reports in one place.  Warc is relied upon as an independent and authoritative source by marketing professionals worldwide and is the strategic knowledge partner of the World Federation of Advertisers. No other service provides as many detailed solutions to real marketing challenges.”

In today’s’ post we have an interview with MR Superstar (and all around great guy) John Kearon, Chief Juicer of BrainJuicer related to a Warc event on Next Gen Research next month in London. I am very bummed I won’t be attending; you shouldn’t make the same mistake!


Joseph Clift, Web Producer, Warc


It’s no coincidence that Next Generation Research is both the theme of Warc’s next conference and one of the marketing industry’s most pressing issues. How can clients adapt to, and adopt, the ever-increasing repertoire of new MR techniques available to them? And how can research practitioners best convince clients that these new techniques are worth their investment? Hopefully delegates at the one-day conference, which takes place in London on January 17th 2013, will get some answers to these crucial questions.

One man certainly not short of opinions on the state of the research industry is the conference’s chairman, John Kearon, founder and “chief juicer” of MR agency BrainJuicer. When we met in London last week, Kearon offered his own broad definition of next generation research: new techniques that “reflect the way human beings actually behave”. But, he added, the marketing industry has yet to truly take these techniques on, and is all the poorer for this timidity.

John Kearon on next gen MR (2:03)

“Every company has gone public saying the old techniques are not good enough,” Kearon explained. “Fantastic. But the way big clients are spending their money hasn’t changed.”

Moreover, the cash that has been diverted into next gen MR has not necessarily been spent effectively. Kearon said many brand owners are going for eye-catching, buzzed-about techniques – but are only using them for one-off projects, rather than part of a long-term, thought-out strategy. Chief among these is neuroscience – using fMRI scans and the like to unlock consumers’ unconscious motivations and desires. Kearon’s on record as decrying “neuro nonsense”, or the tendency among some researchers to wildly overstate the technique’s current capabilities. “Neuroscience is seductive, but it has limits,” he added.

But there are many bright spots for those who want to move research forward. For one thing, the public sector is taking an interest. Kearon said that contacts in the UK, India and across the world are also impressed by the implications of behavioral economics, and are finding real success in using this technique – witness the British government’s Change 4 Life health initiative. Kearon also sees this as a very hopeful sign for the industry as a whole.

John Kearon on the mainstreaming of MR (1:56)

There’s also little doubt that the general public know more about MR techniques today than they did in years past. There’s the recent furore over pollster Nate Silver, whose data-crunching model successfully predicted the outcome of the 2012 US presidential election. And recent bestsellers like Charles Duhigg’s The Power of Habit and Haler and Sunstein’s Nudge have opened many eyes to the way that human behavior can be tracked, analyzed and – potentially – exploited for corporate gain.

Of course, these revelations haven’t exactly been welcomed with open arms by the general public. This, naturally, is another issue the industry has to tackle, though Kearon saw the potential backlash as nothing new, comparing it to the horrified reaction many readers had to Vance Packard’s classic ad industry-bashing book The Hidden Persuaders when it was first published in the 1950s.

All this will be discussed at Next Gen Research, and speakers already confirmed include representatives from Mars, EMI Music, Starcom MediaVest and Google Consumer Surveys. You can find out more – including booking information and a full agenda – in the Warc Store. We hope to see you there in January!


Originally published on the Warc blog.

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