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How research is conducted

Research is supposed to tell us how much money we are going to make. It's supposed to predict what the sales/revenue volumes will be so that we can adjust our marketing effort...
Advertising creativity is the wild card because it's incredibly difficult to predict and/or control.

A long time ago, most of the research in South Africa was conducted (or paid for) by media owners. This was a major criticism of research and research techniques because the truly worthy - those guys who continually seek out absolute truth - wanted data to be produced and accessed in an unbiased way.

How research is conducted
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It was this belief that prompted the formation of SAARF (South African Advertising Research Foundation - more recently changed from "research" to "readership").

Research into media consumption - buying, selling, reading etc., has developed out of a need to better understand, or become closer to, the consumer.

But research, like so many aspects of advertising, isn't nearly as mystical as many would have you believe.

Research is also wrong. It can never be right. Think about it. Even with a huge sample there are inherent dangers - over- and under-claiming, dubious field workers, overly technical analyses and so forth.

I read an "informed" interview with a well-respected researcher, who said "early sales volumes - say over the first year - are a bad predictor of final repeat buying."

What he meant to say, I'm sure, is that following launch and subsequent sales analysis, it's relative child's play to predict ongoing sales.

There are many techniques involved in research and I'll cover just a few of them now:


This attempts to discover why a product is bought. Not by asking consumers or searching through their rubbish bins but by asking consumers to try two products, for example.

Two packs are produced, and a selected group are ask to say which one they prefer. One is packaged in green and the other in red.

As they both contain exactly the same product, you would expect a kind of "not sure" answer. But most of the time the majority will make a decision. If most prefer the green product then, presumably, green would be better suited to the packaging of this product.

Depth interview

Conducted, or guided, by an experienced interviewer. No set questions are used and the respondents can talk about anything they like (in relation to the product, obviously).

The funnel technique

Where the depth interviewer starts on a broad basis and, by deft manipulation, becomes increasingly specific.

Sentence-completion tests

Where "free association" is implied when a respondent reacts spontaneously to a series of words or incomplete sentences. If you're testing a washing powder then you might want to know what the consumer's preferences are. Is it price, smell, gentleness etc?

Attitude battery

Where the respondent is given a selection of questions and asked which resemble, most closely, his thoughts.

Example: Answer either true or not true to this question. "You smoke cigarettes..."

1 To rest my nerves.
2 To do something with my hands.
3 Because it helps to make friends
4 To be sociable.
5 Because it stops me getting hungry.
6 To pass the time.
7 Because it's a habit.
8 I enjoy it even though I know it will kill me - or make me very ill.
9 The fact that it is bad for my health doesn't bother me.
10 The fact that it makes my clothes and hair smell doesn't bother me.

Visualisation tests

Which is a variation on the attitude test. Here the respondent is asked to either imagine a picture or is shown a picture and then, in response to a specific question, is given a choice of possible answers.

Here's an example;

Question: "I would like you to imagine a man who habitually rolls his own cigarettes - which is he likely to be:"

A lorry driver or a clergyman?
A schoolteacher or a bricklayer?
Generous or mean?
Strong or weak?

Finally, here are a few buzzwords and definitions you're likely to come across when talking to researchers. You can even invent a few yourself and throw them into the conversation just for fun - and see how long it is before they start to use your (invented) words.

Affective: Pertaining to the affections. Emotional.

Cognitive: Pertaining to the faculty of knowing/perceiving

Conative: Pertaining to the natural tendency to act on desire or aversion.

Ego: The reality principle where conduct is selfish.

Id: Raw, animal-like impulses - immediately demanding.

Somatic: Physical, or of the body.

Super-ego: The conscience (i.e. socially-approved conduct).

There are, of course, very many different types of research available and we'd need a complete book to cover them all. But hopefully the few I've mentioned will give you a start - so rev up your Id and start studying them!


Read my blog ( or see what other amazing things we do at

*Note that Bizcommunity staff and management do not necessarily share the views of its contributors - the opinions and statements expressed herein are solely those of the author.*

About Chris Brewer

Having joined the ad industry in London, Chris Brewer spent most of his career in media analysis and planning - but has performed just about every advertising task from Creative to Research. He's an honorary lifetime member of the Advertising Media Association and regularly advises agencies and clients regarding their media plan costs and strategies. He is also often asked to talk at industry functions. Email: az.oc.srewerb@sirhc. Twitter: @brewersapps. Read his blog:
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