Defending a decision by pretending you didn’t make it

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Rory Sutherland said this week that there have always been 2 roles for market research – one is looking for real consumer insight and the other is ‘arse covering’ or to put it another way, ‘a way of defending a decision by pretending you didn’t make it’.


Rory Sutherland said this week that there have always been 2 roles for market research – one is looking for real consumer insight and the other is ‘arse covering’ or to put it another way, ‘a way of defending a decision by pretending you didn’t make it‘.

That arse covering will be hard to get rid of, which is a huge shame as it’s hampering the faster rise of exciting, dynamic research methods that gets to that real consumer insight that can inform and change businesses, rather than protect someones behind.

If market research continues to be used in this tick box way rather than a way of delivering business changing insight then it’s no wonder that market research gets blamed for so much.

It leads to dullness.

It leads to a lack of innovative approaches being embraced and people doing things as they’ve always done them (which is a sure fire way to mediocre growth).

As Sutherland added, ‘the vast bulk of research activity seems to be just ploughing on as before’.

How depressing if true as the level of innovation in market research is huge, there are some amazing companies out there. But incredibly it’s still the same-old same-old at the top of the research revenue leagues, something that doesn’t match at all with the ‘most innovative’ lists.

It’s so utterly boring and predictable … no wonder the result is.

Dave Trott brilliantly estimated that £17bn (89%) worth of advertising might as well not have run because people hadn’t noticed or remembered it. I suspect research is partly to blame for that figure as the are directly linked.

He went on to say, this about marketing (and insights),

“Marketing is finding out what people actually want. Then finding a way to match what they want with what we have to sell.”

So Insights has a key role in this which is to find out what people actually want.

But how?

I’d suggest that ‘ploughing on as before’ might not be the right way to close that gap, to reduce that deficit.

Perhaps it’s time to try something new.