Tuesday, 9 October 2012

Context, context, context

I don't think anyone would disagree that the context in which someone sees a piece of communication - from a pack design to a cinema ad - plays a vital role in how well that piece of communication works. And it's not just the physical context, but the interaction between this and the viewer's internal mood state that can make a piece of communication top or flop.

But, for those of us who want to pre-test our communication - for whatever reason - is context important then? I would argue that it certainly plays a role. In qualitative research, where we're more likely to be doing creative development research rather than "testing" per se, we can at least try and approximate to the context - discussions conducted in pubs, or at the playgroup, or at least talking around the subject to get people in the mood.

But quantitative pre-testing doesn't generally allow us this kind of indulgence. Where and when the interview is conducted is usually not considered. For example, can you really expect people to respond in a highly motivated way to a TV ad for a Christmas offer when the research is done in the middle of July? Relevance is the holy grail that everyone is chasing in the world of communication - and surely relevance is a matter of being in the right person's attention span, in the right place at the right time?

I have an anecdote from my early days of working in marketing. It was the lead-up to Christmas and I'd rather over-indulged at one of the very generous and alcoholic shindigs that London agencies used to lay on. Around 10:30am I realised I wasn't going to get through the day without Resolve, which was my drug of choice in those days. However, my attempt to limp along to Boots was curtailed when a lady with a clipboard dragged me into a church hall to look at beer labels.

I still don't remember how I got through that interview without chucking my guts up. Having to look at beer labels and talk about them in detail was the last thing I wanted to do. If anyone else was feeling the way I was (which was likely), I don't suppose they got particularly useful results.

But then, what do you expect if you conduct research into beer labels at 10:30am in a church hall in the middle of the party season?

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