I came a bit late to Instagram. Mea culpa. But it’s now my favourite – if least informative – social media platform because it’s just oh…so…pretty.

I lament ads on Twitter. I lament ads on Facebook (in fact, I lament Facebook full stop). But when an ad pops up on Instagram I am there, I am IN and I am poised with my credit card. If I can’t get it delivered, preferably on subscription, I don’t want it.

Last week was a biggie.

The March magazine from my Stack subscription arrived. They choose an independent journal and post it out to you once a month. Last month was poetry (not my thing). This month it’s a magazine published by the Copenhagen Institute for Futures Studies. All matt paper, big photos and articles that will make me smarter. Heaven. Died. Gone to.

My first instalment of VITL vitamins plopped onto my desk. I’d filled in a nifty online questionnaire and then got my first month’s tailored box of daily vits. This is a vitamin selection I won’t forget to take because (joy) it has my name printed on it. Love that.

My first ‘wellness’ plant arrived. A big box of leafy goodness designed to suck the toxins from my home in the same way the vitamins will suck the toxins from my body. I’ve subscribed to quarterly deliveries – which is about the same time it will take me to accidentally kill the plant. Probably with the same toxins it’s designed to eradicate.

And if that wasn’t cleansing enough, let’s not forget All Plants. I’m no vegan but I do like a frozen ready meal. The packaging is beautiful and the meals I’ve eaten so far are entirely delicious. Yes, all ordered and delivered from Insta.

Subscriptions aren’t new, of course they’re not. I’ve done Graze (too much snack!), meal delivery (I now favour Gousto) and regular magazines. And, frankly, if you tried to figure out who I am from this list of recent subscriptions you’d get me pretty wrong. You’d think I was healthier, skinnier, bendier and cleverer than I am. 

Instagram ads get me because they’re pretty and they say it all in one image. And yes, I’m reminded to get on and do it because the algorithm delivers me the same ad until I eventually succumb.

But I love it.  And I’m one click away from ordering my latest faux-me trinket. Watch this space @thirstyulla.


Video Nation

Real people are everywhere now. They’re on our televisions. In our ads. On our YouTube channels. But, back in the ‘90s, real people were a novelty.

Between 1993 and 2001, the BBC broadcasted Video Nation – a revolving diary series spotlighting the lives of normal people. Inspired by the Mass Observation project of the 1930s, ‘40s, and ‘50s (in which everyday people recorded their thoughts, feelings, and experiences), members of the public were given camcorders and invited to record aspects of their daily lives. The footage was then edited into short films and aired before Newsnight.

At The Story 2018 conference last month, Mandy Rose, one of the co-producers of the project, shared highlights from the show as well as insights into how they made it.

Watching the footage now, it’s striking just how natural and unforced it is. Granted an open platform, the participants disclosed their hopes, their fears and their insecurities; from a pensioner lamenting his ageing appearance, to a pregnant mum speculating on her child’s future.

One can only imagine what it was like to watch such intimate scenes at the time – before YouTube made ‘user-generated content’ commonplace. But, unlike YouTube, it was very much a collaboration: participants had the final say over the edit and were closely involved throughout.

Together, this combination of skilled documentarians and everyday people results in a more revelatory, more ‘human’, output than if the participants had simply uploaded the content themselves.

And I think this is why it feels so much more authentic than what passes for user-generated content these days. Rather than an incontinent splurge, Video Nation shorts are tightly constructed, with the human truth brought front and centre – yet another reminder that ‘authentic’ representations are often more constructed than they first appear.

What could this mean for brands? Don’t sacrifice storytelling at the altar of the ‘real’. User-generated content requires the same craft and rigour as any other. And, curiously, feels a lot more real.

Sleep deprived?

Foggy. Wonky. Out of it. However you say it, I’m simply not functioning this morning*. I’m not distracted. I’m not bored. My mind feels dense – like a saturated sponge I just can’t wring out. I’m reading the same lines over and over but nothing is going in. Even my miracle-worker, coffee, can’t pull me out of this lull. What on earth should I do?


We seem to consider sleep a luxury, the quality kind reserved specially for the weekends, for rest days, for our teenage years. Well, I have good news and bad news; adequate sleep should be so much more than a weekend indulgence. Now I’m not saying that ‘catching up on sleep’ is suddenly a valid excuse for being late to work. BUT we should treat sleep in the same way we treat food…with the utmost importance!

On a cellular level, as we sleep our bodies repair and restores themselves. Therefore a lack of sleep limits us during the day both mentally and physically.

Insufficient sleep alters focus and inhibits learning and memory processes. Research suggests that when we sleep, memory consolidation occurs through the strengthening of neural connections. These then form our memories. If we don’t get enough sleep, it impedes our ability to develop any new information we acquire. Also, without adequate sleep, overworked neurons cannot function to coordinate information properly. This means we not only struggle to learn new things, but we also struggle to recall things we already know. (Suddenly the ‘dense’ feeling I experienced earlier is making more sense.)

We know that inadequate sleep slows our reaction time and hinders our decision-making abilities. Did you also know that it has a similar effect on the brain as drinking alcohol?

Sleep also plays a huge role in our physical well-being. Roger Federer gets 12 hours’ sleep a night. Yes, that is a little extreme, but many top athletes prioritise sleep so much more than the rest of us. That’s because sleep is crucial to healthy growth and development. Indeed, it is deep sleep that triggers the release of hormones needed to help build muscle mass and repair any cells and tissues damaged by fitness training. Whether you’re a casual gym-goer, a park runner, or an athlete, sleep is equally important.

Even if you care not for a focused mind-set, strong concentration, healthy growth, or sufficient muscle recovery, adequate sleep should still be a priority. That’s because sleep affects our attitude towards food. Yes, you read that correctly, FOOD. Sleep deprivation increases our ghrelin levels and decreases our leptin levels. Ghrelin and leptin are hormones; ghrelin makes you feel hungry, leptin makes you feel full. Simply put, if you’re not getting enough sleep, you tend to feel hungrier. If this isn’t an incentive to prioritise sleep then I don’t know what is. No one likes to be hangry.

So, there it is. Sleep is our refueller, our friend, our saviour. Who knew how much our bodies do while we’re getting a bit of shut-eye? Off for an early one tonight I think.

*Not really ‘this’ morning.

Time for action

At Razor Kids, we regularly explore emerging trends, behaviours and attitudes. Recently we turned our attention towards self-image amongst girls aged 8-14 years. For the first time, we heard them starting to voice resentment towards the unattainable benchmarks (driven mainly by social media and selfie culture) on how they should look and present themselves.

As young girls become more active consumers of media – particularly on YouTube and Instagram – they’re increasingly exposed to unrealistic expectations of self-imagery. This is creating a generation that views everything in ‘real’ life as ugly – including themselves.

Whilst there’s now substantial evidence to show that too much social media can lead to poor mental health, it seems that the government and DCMS are powerless to create a regulated system to protect the young and vulnerable. It’s time to act.

If you listen to girls talk about what it’s like growing up in 2018, it sounds like a positive story on the surface. They have greater aspirations and opportunities for their careers, along with an array of positive female role models to emulate. Many cite their mums as someone they aspire to be like.

So, why do young girls still suffer with low self-esteem and poor body image? We believe it’s rooted in how they’re being exposed to unrealistic ideals on how they should look and act and in the current media environment. The ‘beauty gap’ is prolific and harmful.

‘Because people use filters and Photoshop over their pictures, it makes me think my own image isn’t good enough to please society.’
Age 12 (year 7), Brighton

Children’s media independence – and access to adult content – is accelerating them into adult worlds and norms. Previous studies we’ve worked on revealed that kids tend to get their own social media accounts as soon as they have a smartphone. This happens by year 6 for most kids in the UK, but it can also be from a younger age.

Where traditional media was once censored by responsible guardians, the present-day ownership of personal devices means very little safeguarding. In fact, when we chat to kids about this, they are acutely aware of their loss of childhood and feel slightly sad that they aren’t truly able to enjoy what they know is supposed to be a ‘special’ and carefree period in their life.

‘It’s difficult being told so many things and still not knowing who you are.
I sometimes want to be a baby again and not have to care about any of it.’

Age 13 (year 8), London

Transitioning into a teenager always comes with angst, self-doubt, and a need for peer acceptance – but this has been exacerbated for teens who are active on social media, sharing and living their lives under public scrutiny. They feel compelled to post selfies that will increase their ‘likes’, take photos to keep their ‘streaks’ up, and tell the world what they are up to and how they are feeling. Given their tender age, it isn’t surprising that they don’t all have the emotional resilience to cope with being judged so openly and harshly.

Our study found that regardless of location/family set-up/age, as soon as girls become active on social media (especially Instagram) they tend to experience feelings of insecurity and ugliness. When scrolling through posts from peers, vloggers and celebrities, they feel pressurised to be as good at everything. This relates to the way they look and dress – as well as needing to showcase cues that suggest their talent and popularity.

‘I do feel like I pressure myself. If I see someone who looks really pretty in all their photos, I look at my photos and think, why do I not look like that?’. Why am I not as pretty?’
Age 11 (year 6), Crewe

The current rhetoric preached at schools focuses on inclusion and diversity. When it comes to beauty definitions, we heard that tweens and teens have a greater regard for intrinsic values, compared to external looks and traditional norms around beauty. But media content, advertising imagery and brand messaging is out of kilter, still presenting the world with a very narrowly defined view of what is regarded as socially acceptable with idealised norms.

‘In adverts it’s always the tall, skinny and pretty people being shown. They aren’t exactly showing equality. People speak about diversity but then don’t act on it.’
Age 14 (year 9), Scunthorpe

Today’s media platforms should be used as a tool to celebrate diversity around self-image. Instead, they re-affirm a confined perspective of what is aspirational. Teens mimic beauty imagery with selfies and poses and apply ‘pretty’ filters to enhance their looks. As app technology innovates, the benchmark for how one presents themselves in public rises substantially. Sadly, girls talk about feeling ugly when they are looking at themselves in the real world. Quite worrying when you think about their identities being formed at this crucial time in their lives. We see a schizophrenic split emerge of real versus virtual identities that they are struggling to work out. It’s social media that forces them to focus on their public self, rather than their private world where they can feel comfortable and safe.

‘The way that the media describes fitting in is that you have to be ‘pretty’. You have to have the right clothes, the right body and the right face. I can definitely say that I’ve felt insecure about myself from pictures I’ve seen all over Instagram and other social media sites.’
Age 14 (year 10), London 

Some of the 12-14 year-olds we spoke to are angry. They criticise brands and posts for not presenting beauty authentically. They are confused about who are models, who are their peers, and whether the beauty they see is real or has been manipulated. The benchmarks on how they should present themselves are being pushed to unattainable limits. They lament that social media relentlessly feeds them imagery that all looks the same.

‘I think there is pressure on how I look. I think this comes from social media and magazines where models are all perfect but fake looking. They make me feel that this is how society thinks people should look and how I should look.’
Age 12 (year 7)

Currently, the icons they look up to are respected for their inner qualities, such as their positivity or supporting causes that they affiliate with. When they talk about beauty, they choose people who are brave (such as Nikki Lilly), or bold and unique (ike transgender vloggers James Charles and Patrick Starr). However, we wonder how long it will be before they drop them and move towards more ‘conventional’ models of beauty?

As sub-cultures become homogenised, it is having a devastating impact on the girls who don’t feel like they fit in. The result is a generation of girls who feel squeezed and marginalized in how they want to express themselves or develop their identity. Whilst various beauty and personal care brands have begun to challenge the status quo, the message isn’t filtering down to tweens and teens.

We have a responsibility to protect our future generation of women. For the first time, we are hearing from them that they don’t like the impact of social media and the way it creates insecurities around acceptance and belonging (a fundamental human need). This cannot be ignored. We are living in a social experiment where it’s hard to predict the future – but early signs of the impact on social media are alarming. It’s time to regulate social media and become more stringent in what children have access to.

Our full report – The Beauty Project – is now available to share.

Contact Lesley Salem, head of Razor Kids, for further details.


See you later, alligator?

It’s not every day you see a brand do away with its logo. But, for the first time ever, Lacoste has done precisely that for an extremely limited edition collection.

Lacoste and creative agency, BETC Paris, recently teamed up with the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) to help raise awareness of, and funds for, endangered species. Whilst the famous Lacoste crocodile isn’t endangered, there are many species that aren’t as lucky.

Across the collection of classic white polos, 10 endangered species have individually appeared where the croc used to be. Not only that, but the number of polos in existence (for sale) of each species corresponds to the number alive left in the wild.

For instance, the Vaquita (porpoise) range offered only 30 polos (specimens). At the top end of the scale, there were 450 of the Anegada Ground Iguana shirts.

That gives us a total of 1,775 polo shirts across the entire collection. That knowledge certainly puts things into perspective. Not only is this partnership raising much needed attention to the #SaveTheSpecies campaign, it’s genuinely creating a buzz, a collector’s item and (most importantly) a dialogue about the cause. With every polo purchased, the money goes towards preserving that species in the wild. And it goes without saying, the limited stock was snapped up almost instantly; pun intended.

In the past, I’ve questioned whether corporate social responsibility is something that big brands are merely latching onto, rather than truly standing for something. Some attempts of CSR seem disingenuous and removed from the brand – essentially just piggy-backing onto someone else’s social work. However, I think this is a great example of how to get it right. Lacoste has created something relevant, worthy and important. This campaign certainly gets the Razor approval. And it’s only the beginning – the partnership will run for the next three years. Good work!

Screen Shot 2018-03-06 at 17.13.39
(Photo by Lacoste.)

I pod, therefore I am: take one

We don’t half wang on about storytelling in the research industry. Well in most industries, really – it’s everywhere. But we’re supposed to be better at it than others. Writing debriefs and ‘telling the story’ is the hardest part of what we do and, having spent another weekend wrestling a story out of a confusing mess of conversations, I’m struggling to remind myself that this is something I’m supposed to excel at.

Telling the story was the biggest learning curve I faced when dipping my toes into the heady world of ‘can’t beat them? Join them’ podcasting. (See my previous blog about my new research ‘toy’.) I quietly went ahead and produced a pilot back in January. I chose a client brand I love – one that’s been generous to Razor over the years – and tried using audio to tell their consumers’ stories in a way that works differently to debriefs and videos.

And boy is it hard. I’m on the cusp of having a second try and here are a few lessons I’ve learnt:

  • You can’t just ‘wing’ the story. It’s all very well assuming that a story will simply emerge from a spontaneous conversation (as spontaneous as any conversation can be when you’re trying desperately hard not to interject with pointless hums and haws). If you don’t know what story you’re trying to tell in advance, you might just find the story takes longer to emerge. Plan more.
  • Push the boundaries. I’m no therapist. As a moderator I’ve often been in a position where I’ve hit an emotional nerve in a conversation and the professional in me acknowledges it and then moves on. But if you do that when capturing an interview for a podcast you’re likely to stop the tape just as it gets interesting. I now know to plan and tease out those moments of raw emotion and not shy away from letting them happen. We have the interviewee’s consent and we’re not there to just listen – we’re there to tell.
  • It takes time (and two). I had no idea that an editor would bring such value to the party! This time round I’ve brought mine in at the beginning so he can help me shape the content before I even start. He will instinctively know what textures I need to weave in to make a better listen.

But the most important thing I’ve learnt is what I should have known going in to this experiment. And that’s that any good story must have some drama. Something has to happen. If nothing happens, if there’s no narrative arc…then it’s nothing better than an eavesdrop.

Here’s a snippet from my first attempt. I might as well put it out there. I’ll embark on round two and let you know whether I’ve learnt from my mistakes.


‘Nothing beats a Londoner’

An advert has generated a spirit I haven’t felt since the 2012 Olympics; one of genuine pride and excitement to be a Londoner. And I’m not even its target audience!

Nike wanted to reconnect with young Londoners to demonstrate that the American superbrand really ‘gets’ them and is aligned with their values. To achieve this, it created a three-minute film that tells the stories of everyday young Londoners aspiring to be athletes. There’s an obligatory smattering of famous sporting and musical cameos thrown in – but they are not the stars of this show.

Judging by the overall positive response on social media and the 2.8m views on You Tube since its launch six days ago, it’s clearly hitting the mark.

So why does it work? A myriad of reasons no doubt. I can’t speak for Gen Z but here’s what jumps out at me:

  • Celebration
    The focus is on young Londoners themselves, not on the Nike brand. The film not only showcases a diverse group in terms of ethnicity, but also in terms of the broad variety of sports covered and, importantly, who we see playing them (think gender neutrality). Nike is celebrating the diversity and individuality of London’s Gen Z through their athletic pursuits.

  • Authenticity
    They’ve done a really good job of making it feel authentic; something we know Gen Z expects and demands of brands these days. The true-to-life locations (i.e. the streets of Peckham), the grainy texture of the shots (by using 16mm film) and the use of 258 real young Londoners all help to capture a genuine depiction of London youth culture as we know it.
  • Energy
    The pace of the film creates a momentum akin to the nervous energy you feel at the start of a match or when you’re about to perform; that sense of potential achievement when you’ve been working so hard to reach your goals. This inspirational energy is powerful and no doubt speaks to the aspirational and can-do attitude of London’s youth.

Nicely done, Nike. 

Calling all 6-16 year-olds!


Do you have a child aged between 6 and 16 years who’d be interested in going to see various films or visit exhibitions, festivals, and retail stores?

We’re on the lookout for smart, chatty, and confident characters to represent British kids by sharing with us their opinions on a variety of topics and events we’ve got planned throughout the year. 

If selected, tasks would include making short films, taking photos, and completing online diaries. Parents/guardians will receive a gift voucher as a thank you for their child’s time. 

To find out more about this opportunity, please get in touch with [email protected] .


Participating in qualitative research can turn out to be surprisingly emotional for some of our respondents. Most of us in the office have had experiences of respondents ending up rather shaken up after a focus group or an in home session. Some people might never be given the time or space to speak about their lives and doing so with a stranger can be more disturbing than one would expect.

The AQR’s Spark session on how to borrow from the world of psychotherapy in qualitative research appeared to be the perfect opportunity to try and learn from these situations.

Nicky Forsythe, psychotherapist and ex-quallie, argues that everyone has the ability to listen to someone in an ‘empathetic’, therapeutic way. In fact, there are even studies showing how an ‘untrained’ individual listening (but really listening) to someone else can have the same, if not better, cathartic effect than going to a professional therapist. It is not to undermine the value of the latter, but simply to recognize that as human beings we can connect with each other in significant ways through sharing pieces of our stories. Nicky is also the founder of Talk for Health, an organisation promoting accessible and everyday therapeutic talk to increase wellbeing.

Empathetic listening is not new for most experienced qualitative researchers – it is premised on concepts such as having no judgements, open mindedness, not thinking about our next line too much, and staying focused on the other person. Techniques such as mirroring or paraphrasing our respondents’ stories for instance are often used to connect with the respondents and put them at ease.

Of course, providing some sort of cathartic therapy to our respondents is not usually our main objective. However, demonstrating empathy can also enable us to gain valuable insights into what people think. I was delighted to see anthropologist Margaret Mead quoted: ‘There is a big difference between what people say, what people do and what people say they do.’ This is where empathetic listening can be a way for us to gain precision and nuance in our interpretation. It can allow us to more carefully look out for body language cues or paradoxical statements that we can incorporate into a sharper analysis

In every job, people have to negotiate between their professional self and their private self. However, in qualitative research this boundary can seem particularly fuzzy as human connection is such a big part of it. We have to stay focused on our research objectives whilst creating a relationship with our respondents to make them comfortable. During the talk, we spoke about how to remain professional while giving bits of our ‘real’ self, which can be tougher than it seems.

Nicky unexpectedly demonstrated herself how to potentially settle this issue. She had been struggling with some family issues in the few days preceding and was even thinking of cancelling the talk. She approached it by telling us her story as an exercise for us to do empathetic listening. It was very professional on the one hand (because used for the exercise), as well as authentically personal and raw on the other.

I hesitated to include this here because it felt somewhat ‘unprofessional’ to mention, but I realised that was what made the talk so tangible for me.

If I have to be authentic myself, I must admit I felt quite emotionally drained afterwards. It was a very powerful exercise to illustrate how these situations can be simultaneously disconcerting and empowering. Disconcerting because seeing someone open up in a professional context is slightly unsettling, but empowering because it reminds you that everyone is human, including yourself – and that’s ok!

Perfecting Analysis and Debrief Writing

Analysis is the quest for answers and as researchers our job is to relay those as insight, not reportage. Practise makes perfect they say and so I recently got the chance to join the AQR for a 2-day training course on insight and debrief writing. Having only written a handful of debriefs myself I was excited by the opportunity to tighten my storytelling style.

Day 1 looked at the journey of research and the strategic thinking throughout analysis to draw out the core insight. Pushing yourself to think of the wider themes that relate to the business in question is certainly trickier than quoting respondents as gospel – but that’s what we are commissioned for! Some great models that visually explain relationships within the research work well as takeaways that can be passed on as part of the debrief, rather than internally (client side) circulating the entire deck.

Day 2 arrived and we were joined by two professional writers who took us through the world of punctuation, grammar and concise writing. Having looked at an array of introductions from our favourite novels/poems we used that inspiration to draft our own on ‘mini-deck’ using what we had learnt. For me, one of the key things is being able to keep your copy succinct. Remove any irrelevant information to keep the reader engaged – “if in doubt, cut it out”. I am certainly looking forward to writing my next debrief.