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An #MRX Hallowe’en Parade

A look at market research's house of horrors - the most terrifying monsters of modern-day research. It's a Hallowe'en parade with a ghastly research twist, and perhaps along the way we might learn how to banish these fiends from our lives.


By Tom Ewing

It’s the scariest time of the year. Wherever people care about Hallowe’en, they are hoarding candy and choosing costumes, from the topical to the tasteless, and often both (yes, you CAN buy a “sexy Ebola containment suit”, thanks for asking).

So let’s open up market research’s own house of horrors, and let loose the creatures of the night – the most terrifying monsters of modern-day research. It’s a Hallowe’en parade with a ghastly research twist, and perhaps along the way we might learn how to banish these fiends from our lives for the other 364 nights of the year.

Ghosts: What would Hallowe’en be without a bunch of spectres, revenants, and sheets with eyeholes? Research has its own ghosts – the spirits of dead projects that haunt attempts to innovate or change methodologies. “It’s been tried before.” “It never works.” “What about the norms?” As Ray Parker Jr tells us, ghostbusting makes you feel good – and so does trying something new.

Frankenstein’s Monster: The shambling brute built from body parts and given life on a madman’s operating table has its analogue in the research presentation sewn together entirely out of lifeless buzzwords. “Engagement… authenticity… proprietary metric… millennial…” The best way of fighting it, unfortunately, is not to create it in the first place.

The Wolfman: He seems harmless enough, but every month he transforms into a terrible monster that devours anything it can reach. Most people who’ve spent time analysing or reading a monthly tracking study can sympathise with this curse. Save money (and silver bullets) by not asking so many questions.

Dracula: You can’t have Hallowe’en without the Lord of Vampires – and for a long time you couldn’t have market research without long, overly rational questionnaires that similarly drained all life from a topic. Like vampires, these could change form – from face-to-face, to pen-and-paper, to online – will mobile finally be their garlic?

The Mummy: You open the Mummy’s Tomb looking for hidden treasure, but instead you find a horrifying curse. It’s a bit like unethical research that brings a terrible PR curse upon those who tamper with it – think Facebook’s emotional experiments. Some things mankind was not meant to know – at least without informed consent.

The Headless Horseman: Here he comes, galloping across the land – and his research equivalent is badly planned DIY work. It’s extremely fast, but there’s an unfortunate gap where its brain ought to be. (Used well, of course. DIY tools are far less scary.)

Zombies: The zombie apocalypse happened in research a while ago – we’re infested by what the planner Martin Weigel calls “Zombie Ideas”: they were discredited years back but they simply won’t lie down and die. We call have our favourites – influencer theory, purchase intention, or how about brand loyalty: it’s been decades since Andrew Ehrenberg started his work showing how rare “loyalists” really are, but brands still doggedly pursue them. A shot to the head is long overdue.

Cthulhu: A relatively new addition to the horror pantheon, HP Lovecraft’s Cthulhu Mythos posited a world of cosmic terror where man is simply an insignificant speck, doomed to madness if he ever perceives the true order of the universe. It’s somewhat like the vertiginous terror researchers seem to feel when they confront the vastness of big data: how can our work possibly have meaning in the face of its computational power? Lovecraft was not an optimistic sort, but we are surely made of sterner stuff, and can master our fear of the unknown. I hope.

That’s BrainJuicer’s selection of research demons. But what are your favourite market research monsters?



Photo Credit: legOfenris

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