Good innovations in products and services answer a need, as we all know. Sometimes this need is so blatant and obvious, it hits you round the face - music on the go that doesn't disturb others is a classic. Or sometimes the need is one you didn't know you had, but, by golly - you couldn't live without that product now - as in PostIts. And sometimes it's not a need at all, but it's damned good to have. Like Marmite Crisps.
But there are plenty of human needs that you know all about but there's no way you're going to mention them to that nice lady moderating the Group Discussion. Ahem.
The anonymous digital world has meant, of course, that there's been a huge increase in these nudge-nudge-wink-wink needs being answered, from the legions of otherwise wholesome mummies reading really rather grubby books to the following little gem.
FakeShower is an app that spares your blushes from your nearest and dearest. Have a look at the video if you want to know the awful truth.
But one question remains in my mind. Who takes their iPhone to the loo with them at home? Should I do some market research to find out?
There's a lot of talk these days about the trend towards the local. Local produce - with many supermarket chains offering their own lines with certified provenance, or local (and for local read independent) coffee shops and restaurants - and all with the connection to social and mobile media, facilitating access in all senses of the word.
But it seems a shame that, for many people, these thoughts go out of the window and straight onto the local rubbish tip when it comes to holidays abroad. It's far easier to book something all-inclusive in an impeccably furnished but ultimately soulless hotel - which could be anywhere. Palaces of concrete like luxury cruise ships - and with about as much foundation, roots or local character.
The usual excuses justify this behaviour:
"It's great for the children with the Kid's Club"
"I don't want to risk a dodgy tummy or getting knifed in a backstreet on holiday"
"If you pay all-inclusive upfront, there aren't any hidden extras"
Well, no. There won't be any hidden extras. No nasty surprises, but no nice ones either.
Just endless stretches of sanitised, predictable, global-brand-for-discerning-guests.
Although celebrity tie-ups and sponsorships can bring a brand real rewards if used well, there are always those worries when entering into this type of partnership. Will it really do something for my brand, or will our marketing budget simply boost the celebrity's fame and do nothing for us? What if the celebrity in question turns out to be Bad News? I can't be the only one cringing when I think how Jimmy Savile dominated advertising in the 70s and 80s. Or what about all those doped cyclists?
In the case of a sponsorship - what if something goes wrong? This consideration is enough to stop many potential sponsorships in their starting blocks with some of the riskier sports.
But there is one brand that appears to be as fearless as the extreme sportsmen that it sponsors - Red Bull. The brand has built is image consistently and courageously through an association with unusual and extreme sports.
The latest example is the Red Bull Stratos Mission, in which sky diver Felix Baumgartner will attempt to break the speed of sound in a spectacular sky dive - and a record that is now over 50 years old. All of this at huge personal risk.
It's currently scheduled for tomorrow and, whatever happens or whatever you may think of Mr Baumgartner, no-one can accuse the brand Red Bull of not having balls.
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?
I'm not a fan of those interminable "role of planning" discussions, especially when they sprout appendages such as "in the digital age". I'd rather be getting on with the job than discussing and defining it. And the role of planning is actually quite simple, whether you're living in the digital or the dinosaur age.
Dave Trott's blog puts this very well. The proper role of planners, according to the legendary creative, is defining the problem, getting the question right, even questioning the question. All of that rather than fiddling and fussing with the answer.
He continues with a very flattering analogy for planners everywhere. If planners spend their time fiddling with ads, it's "the equivalent of a general in the middle of a battle going round to every soldier to check his uniform is correct."
Instead, we're advised to focus on what we're there for: being upstream, original and predatory.
Of course, there's nothing wrong with giving your opinion on a TV ad, or an app, or any executional element of such, especially if you're asked for it. You can even venture your view on how it might work.
But when you start dictating executional changes, especially if you haven't defined the problem at the outset, the battle is lost.
When I was little, I wanted to be a spy. I got off to a good start, studying Psychology at Trinity College, Cambridge but somehow got side-tracked into the wonderful world of advertising and marketing.
My children's books: