AQR’s Breakfast Bites

The perfect topic for a young researcher!

The Nursery’s Kat Cunningham gave us some excellent tips on impressing clients – starting with the dos and don’ts for young researchers – during this week’s AQR’s Breakfast Bites session. (Yes, there was breakfast. And yes, I did have three croissants.)

We learned about the importance of preparing for briefing meetings where, even if you’re new to market research, you must always add value to the conversation taking place; whether that’s through listening and being insightful with your comments, or showing enthusiasm in your behaviour. There’s a lot you can do to contribute despite not having the experience and knowledge of a director.

The talk also focused on body language and its significance; whether it’s the image you portray to your client or simply boosting your self-confidence. (Enter: the ‘power pose’!)

Kat also recommended a captivating TED talk by Amy Cuddy (‘Your body language may shape who you are’) during which she demonstrates the importance of body language in showing authority and confidence; which then translates to being respected and heard. It’s people’s actions, and how they carry themselves, which act as a catalysts in the engagement of audiences. In other words, it’s not just what you say, it’s how you say it! “People aren’t always listening as much as you think.”

**Keep an eye on the AQR calendar and members’ emails for details of upcoming events. Non-members also welcome!**



A word from our sponsors

With each passing year, the challenge to create memorable Super Bowl advertising becomes increasingly complicated as brands try to navigate their way through social hot topics, political issues, and finding the right celebs to help sell products.

The ads are usually as eagerly-awaited as the big game itself; particularly unusual in the era of on-demand television where most of us tend to skip the advertising – if we can – to get to the shows we’re trying to watch. And if it’s a low-scoring game, as it turned out to be on Sunday, the ads need to work even harder.

I watched so many Super Bowl ads yesterday that I have to sit in a dark room for a bit today. While I’m busy doing that, below are the categories I’ve split some of this year’s ads into. As always, these examples only scratch the surface; but they’ll give you a good idea of the broad themes. I’ve not included film trailers by the way; they’re a given. And I think it’ll take a separate blog to cover some of the ads that outraged various groups of people. 

Before we get into the categories, let’s first watch an entertaining game


Bud Light/GoT – ‘Joust Judging by the Twitter reaction, this one gave viewers quite the shock. At first, you’re merrily following the standard ‘Dilly dilly’ malarkey when, suddenly, the Bud Knight faces a new challenger – cue skull crushing and deadly flames.

Doritos – ‘Chance the Rapper x Backstreet Boys’ An ad for nachos featuring BSB. That’s good enough for me. <<Drools over AJ>>

Pringles – ‘Sad device’ Okay, it’s not really a brand mashup but let’s pretend that they’re talking to an Amazon Alexa device.

Stella Artois – ‘Change Up the Usual’ Dude from The Big Lebowski hanging out with SATC’s Carrie Bradshaw. The ad supports Stella’s clean water campaign with and uses these iconic characters to change up their usual drinks and do good.



Amazon – ‘Not Everything Makes the Cut’  In a follow-up to last year’s ‘Alexa Loses Her Voice’, Amazon gives us a list of Alexa ‘fails’. Though it highlights the fears that many people have about artificial intelligence, including Harrison Ford getting angry at a dog makes it a bit of a comic highlight.

Bubly – ‘Can I have a Bublé?’ One from the PepsiCo family. A sparkling water brand featuring Canada’s Mickey Bubbles (or Michael Bublé as the rest of the world knows him) convinced that the drink is named after him.

Pepsi – ‘More Than OK’  Quite the bold move mentioning the Coke brand in the opening seconds (and reminding people that many prefer it to Pepsi). But there are only so many times a brand can hear the question ‘is Pepsi OK?’ and not answer it unashamedly – which is why Pepsi also covered Atlanta (Super Bowl host city and home of Coca-Cola) in blue with outdoor ads.      



Hulu/The Handmaid’s Tale – ‘Wake Up America’ What starts out as being very similar to Ronald Reagan’s 1984 campaign ad quickly develops into a dark promo for the upcoming third series of The Handmaid’s Tale. Yikes.     

Washington Post – ‘Democracy Dies in Darkness’ No doubt of mixed reactions during this era of ‘fake news’. But Tom Hanks is the voice of WP’s first ever Super Bowl spot which honours murdered and missing journalists, while highlighting the importance of fact-gathering and the risks the profession involves.    


Coca-Cola – #TogetherIsBeautiful With Atlanta being the home of Coke (and Pepsi being plastered all over the place during Super Bowl) it seems odd that Coca-Cola chose this year to scale back the advertising. Rather than run ads during the game itself, Coke ran its commercial just before kick-off.

Google Translate – ‘100 Billion Words’ Captivating and definitely on brand. It’s easy to view an ad like this through cynical eyes but I’ve chosen to remain hopeful for humanity.

Microsoft – ‘We All Win’ An uplifting ad showing off accessible game controllers for passionate young gamers. Truly a great example of how technology can help those who need it. (No, YOU’RE crying!)


AND FINALLY (It’s not an ad but still…)
Have you ever wondered what happens inside the control room during the Super Bowl halftime show? Well wonder no more. I watched a bit of Coldplay’s 2016 performance and had a mini heart attack trying to keep up. Hats off to all the hard-working people behind the camera; especially those in live TV.


*Read our previous Super Bowl blogs:

Super Bowl 2018
Super Bowl 2017

Kim Jong Un-branded

The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea has always fascinated me. In a global world where branding can be so influential, the DPRK has kept its distance. Just imagine a world without, Heinz, Nike, McVities and the like…though I suppose it’s a classic case of not knowing what you’re missing. I mean, we all love brands, right? (Don’t kid yourself, those own label chopped tomatoes don’t count.) In a highly competitive marketplace, branding and design is the foundation for success. Something forcing companies to strive to constantly be better; surely that’s not a bad thing for us consumers? But what if everything was designed by the state? What then?

The DPRK’s political system has been described by some observers as a ‘hereditary dictatorship’ and an ‘absolute monarchy’, so I ask; what impact does that have on your bag of crisps or tin or sardines?! I went to the House of Illustration in London to find out.

Nicholas Bonner (tour guide and expert on North Korea) shares his collection of FMCG designs, travel tickets, invitations, postage stamps, hand-painted propaganda and more. I came away with a rare glimpse into what North Korean life is like. 

Due to the state’s structured training of graphic painters (in an attempt to ensure consistency), most of the designs feel identical. It’s almost as if the DPRK is the brand. There’s no variation and no choice. However, having worked on projects rebranding designs of beer/ale brands, I have to say that Pyongyang Beer wouldn’t look out of place in any craft pub in London. Though I’ve a feeling that none of their designs were tested in research… 

In more recent years, competition’s become established in many markets and technology is allowing hand-crafted designs to be replaced by digital imagery. There is a desire for the country to be seen on a level with foreign brands so much of the packaging is now characterized by flat block colour – as seen elsewhere in Asia.

Whilst it is all so intriguing, mysterious and insightful, I’m happy to know that in the UK there’s always a choice to make. There’s always a brand working harder or doing things differently.

P.S. if you want to check it out, the exhibition is only open until 13 May, 2018.



Strong and stable recruitment

Earlier this year, James Diggle of Dig Fieldcraft came to us with a cracking idea for a training project. 

The idea: A mock short-term online community with freelance market research recruiters acting as participants.
The plan: By seeing the process through the eyes of a participant, recruiters should have more empathy for participants – along with a better understanding of the recruitment/research experience.
The end goal: Higher quality recruitment for online communities.

And so the Razor-Dig dream team was born! James rounded up the troops while we focussed on the research design and community structure. We ran the community for 3 days, with everything set up as if it were a real FMCG project for a client – including tasks that real community participants would have to complete. 

At the end we gave them an open-ended questionnaire to complete. This gave us rich insight into a) what recruiters understand the purpose of online communities to be, b) common issues they face when recruiting this methodology, and c) new learnings that emerged from having taken part in a community themselves.

From this feedback we created a ‘best practice’ checklist for online community recruiters to bear in mind and submitted a joint paper to the AQR – who then invited us to speak at this year’s AQR Conference as part of a panel focussing on recruitment issues!  

And here are our seven tips from recruiters for successful online communities:

1. Know your timings
It’s easy to misjudge timings when creating task-based projects for participants to complete independently. It’s also tempting to downplay task length and how long you think it might take a respondent to complete one of your exercises.

Takeaway: Think harder (and longer) about how long your tasks will take. Overestimate where possible.   

2. Be mindful of potentially controversial tasks (i.e. selfie videos)
Auto-ethnography is such a valuable asset to have in our toolkit. But without a skilled moderator there ‘in the flesh’ to help build trust, participants might become uncomfortable by tasks involving selfie videos for example. 

Takeaway: Participants should be told beforehand if they will be required to take photos and videos of themselves.

3. Beware of undeclared extras
Exercises that involve buying something, any kind of excursion, spending time with or taking photos of friends/family almost always mean additional time, strain, and cost for participants.

Takeaway: If you have any unusual extras in your tasks, set your expectations with participants beforehand! It’s only fair that they’re aware of the level of contribution expected from them.

4. Be tech savvy
Not all participants will have laptops, webcams, or mobiles with the latest operating system. Recruiters occasionally find out – after participants have been recruited – that the project cannot go ahead without specific technical requirements like this. 

Takeaway: Find out about the technical requirements of the platform(s) you’ll be using and communicate it clearly to field and potential recruits.

5. Plan for spam
Email spam systems are an easily forgotten vulnerability for logistical hiccups. All sorts of problems could occur if participants are not appropriately warned about what emails to expect and how to appropriately manipulate their spam settings.

Takeaway: Understand the notification system of the platform you’re using and teach participants how to add the email address to their email provider’s ‘white list’.

6. It’s good to talk
With many modern recruitment techniques, it is possible to get through much of the process online. Due to all the potential controversies mentioned above, we must be extra careful that participants have actually read the description and are fully happy and prepared to take part in projects.

Takeaway: Always have a thorough screening call with potential participants to ensure we have their full, informed consent.

7. Provide a clear definition of an online community
‘Online community’ is a relatively new and very nebulous term. It can mean a variety of different techniques and has a variety of uses within research. If we don’t explain to recruiters what it is we really mean by it, they may struggle describing this to potential recruits. (And the recruiters told us that they are rarely provided with such an explanation.)

Takeaway: Give recruiters a couple of sentences which they can use to succinctly explain, to potential participants, what an online community is.

(A summary of Razor & Dig Fieldcraft’s submission to the AQR Conference 2017: 7 Tips from recruiters for successful online communities.)

Note to self:

I love the MRS Conference. I love spending two days surrounded by my comrades. I love my annual catch-ups with the same people I always vow to have lunch with within the next 365 days, and then don’t. I feel lucky that it’s become part of my annual social (and intellectual) calendar.

I love the fact that however hard the organising committee strive (I assume) to lay ‘theme’ across submissions and sessions (this year it was Impact with a capital ‘I’), it’s often delightfully hijacked by global and local fissures along with the sheer will, velocity, and personality of the keynote speakers – who in my view were more stellar this year than ever before.  Okay, it might have been cheaper to watch some TED talks or go to a ‘how to…’ event to see people like Oliver James, Caitlin Moran, Dan Snow, and Hannah Fry…but choosers shouldn’t be sniffy beggars.

The themes that bubbled up eloquently amongst the speakers and panellists (and are now simmering away in my intellect):

  • You should say the word disruption a lot nowadays. If you say disruption with emphasis, you will look as if you are a disruptor. That makes you look like a jolly good thing and quite an important person. I am not very disruptive.
    Note to self: work on that.
  • Being ethical is also a jolly good thing. The more ethical you are, the more people will like you and the more they will buy your stuff if you are a big company.
    Note to self: hone ethics.
  • The internet might implode soon. Or it might not implode soon, but something has to happen at some point because all the famous people who are on the internet are tired of the lawless wild wester-y (or should that be Westeros?) of it all. I have yet to be trolled so I probably shouldn’t complain.
    Note to self: don’t comment – just in case. 
  • Being a woman is another good thing. If you were a woman at this year’s conference you were lauded and celebrated for simply turning up. I’m totally up for sisterhood in principle. I’m just not great at group hugs.
  • Finally, David Bowie will reign long in the hearts and minds of researchers. I pity the other dearly departed of the last year as they quite simply didn’t get a mention. Who knew market research was so zig and zag? Maybe it happened when I wasn’t looking. 
    Note to self: be more Bowie.

Clipboards? What clipboards?

There’s a running joke within the research industry. It’s that nobody grew up planning to be here – we all just sort of fell into it. So whose role is it to attract fresh young talent to our industry? There is so much for market research to be proud of and we must start shouting about what we do.

On Monday, I spoke at the MRS Graduate Roadshow. It’s an initiative led by Ken and Trish Parker. The roadshow travels,with recently graduated researchers, to universities across the country. They introduce and explain our roles along with the type of projects/brands we work on. The group of marketing students I met at Oxford Brookes love brands but actually knew very little about market research.

There is still a certain ‘clipboard on the street’ stigma attached to our industry – and many people associate us with it. For this particular group of students who claim to love brand strategy and development, there was much confusion around what market research is. Perhaps in line with their out-dated perceptions.

After talking to them for 15 minutes, explaining the broad work we do, I certainly got the feeling they begun to understand the exciting opportunities within research. They were actively embracing the possibility of being able to work on multiple brands across varied projects. These students are looking into careers in branding/advertising/marketing when, in fact, much of what they’re interested in is covered by research.

The MRS Graduate Roadshow is doing great work at highlighting consumer research and the influential work we do, but I think it’s time for stronger action. As an industry do we take enough credit for it? Let’s stand up, be proud, and start turning heads!

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