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« Great Quotes for Planners #40 -The Art of Lighting a Creative Brief | Main | Lowe vs Levy »



that's wild, i was just thumbing through the same book last night and jotted down this exact qoute in my notebook!

Nigel Hollis

This is a very simplistic analogy that sounds great in sound bite form but does not stand up to scrutiny. People rejected the idea of a Walkman - the concept not the actual product - because they could not envisage what the end product would be like. You might get away with suggesting that early stage ad testing suffers from the same problem but not pre-testing. Pre-testing typically elicits reaction to finished materials or ones designed to give a good idea of what the finished item will be like. The two cases are not comparable.
If you want some more considered discussion of the benefits and issues related to pre-testing check out:

Jason Lonsdale

Hi Nigel-from-Millward-Brown,

Thanks for the comment -yes, you're right, my syntax was sloppy -that Morita quote isn't strictly about pre-testing. But my intention holds.

Research told Herman Miller not to make the Aeron chair -and this wasn't concept testing, this was the finished item.

Likewise, research, if it had its way, would have committed infanticide on several of history's most popular TV shows (including Seinfeld).

So (and you'll quickly see this from other posts on this blog) I am no fan of pre-testing. It's not that I don't like research -far from it. Yes, exploratory research is crucial in the early days to learn about peoples' wants and needs. I'd even go so far as to say that conducting qual groups with adcepts can be quite a useful way of exploring different strategic and creative approaches.

But I'm afraid that is about as far as it goes for me. I've yet to see any real evidence that a room full of consumers gets it right more often than the agency/client team -and the IPA study which showed an inverse relationship between effectiveness & pre-testing success seems to confirm my views.

My main issue is this (and I'm cribbing from Bruce Tait's excellent piece from a few years ago "How marketing science undermines brands" - pre-testing will generally reward work which is similar to the accepted category norms, and penalise work which totally defies them. Yet in the age of parity, brands need communications which is clearly differentiated.

Why? People do not (initially) like the new and unfamiliar. They confuse their unfamiliarity with dislike (while this was lifesaver for our foraging ancestors, it trips up pre-testing). So they say that they like the thing which is closest to the thing that they already like.

So... car ads need to show a low three-quarter shot. Pet food ads always show happy cat/happy owner... Beer ads have three (always three) blokes in the pub when something funny happens (I bet that latest Strongbow campaign pre-tested it socks off).

Speaking of beer ads, perhaps you could shed some light of the fable of how pre-testing advised Guinness not to make "Surfer" -and if they really did want to make it, take out the horses, because it confused people in the pre-test?

Jason Lonsdale

Also -didn't Stella Artois "Jean de Florette" fail its pre-testing?

paul isakson

You probably already have this one in your bank of quotes as well, but if not, it fits in this bucket:

“It's really hard to design products by focus groups. A lot of times, people don't know what they want until you show it to them.”

- Steve Jobs, BusinessWeek Article, May 1998

Pete Martin

Couldn't agree more. Other than people who are n the business of selling pre-testing (sorry MB) and client-side bods who care more about evidence of due process than real-life success, I haven't met too many marketing/creative professionals who see much value in the outputs of pre-testing.

As psychologists tell you, observation changes behaviour. The focus group is an unreal situation - ie verbalised logic by people who do not realise how they consume media or how they respond to stimuli in real life. Till we find a way to bypass verbal logic, pre-testing findings will remain a predictable (Everybody SAID they THOUGHT this was a SERIOUS blah blah blah...) and generally retrograde process.

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