BBDO BrandCamp takes reality TV tack

Market research meets Big Brother....

Market research meets Big Brother.

That’s certainly one way of describing BBDO’s Future Food BrandCamp. On Oct. 13, the Toronto-based agency assembled 20 young urban trendsetters in a downtown loft, and assigned them the task of coming up with some new food concepts.

At the end of this intensive 48-hour exercise, the results were presented live via Webcast.

A publicity stunt? Partly, concedes Neale Halliday, BBDO’s senior vice-president, head of planning.

The agency publicized the event heavily in advance, in the hope of generating some mainstream media coverage. But the BrandCamp also had a more serious purpose – namely, to generate useful insight for some of the agency’s major clients, including Effem, Hostess Frito-Lay, Pepsi-Cola Canada and Wrigley Canada.

Admittedly, it’s a pretty unusual way to go about getting that insight. But then, some agencies and their clients are concluding these days that if they want to generate fresh product and brand ideas, they need to depart somewhat from traditional research methodologies.

The BrandCamp concept originated with BBDO in Berlin, and until now had never been tried in Canada.

‘We’re experimenting with a new method of research,’ Halliday says. ‘We feel there’s enough interesting potential there for something to come out of it.’

The 20 participants, all young urban professionals, spent the two days locked away with a supply of snack foods and drinks from around the world.

Their task was to dream up new product and packaging ideas in four snack-food categories: salty snacks, chocolate confectionery, chewing gum and carbonated soft drinks. The group was split into four units, each devoted to one of these categories.

To facilitate the process, the participants had access to graphic artists and packaging experts.

Among their proposals were caffeinated jam, caffeinated beer, edible body art and ice cream snacks in portable thermal containers.

Lance Saunders, senior vice-president, planning director with Leo Burnett in Toronto, says the marketing industry needs to make more of an effort to explore alternative research methods like the BrandCamp concept, and shake its dependence on the traditional focus group technique – which, by dint of sheer overuse, has begun to generate diminishing returns.

‘I’m not saying focus groups aren’t advantageous in certain instances,’ he says. ‘But I think we tend to over-rely on them for all our answers.’

Leo Burnett, for its part, has worked with Kellogg Canada on the latter’s ‘Jack’s Pack’ initiative, which launched in August. The Etobicoke, Ont.-based cereal maker has created a ‘brand management’ team consisting of kids aged 15 and under to propose ideas for developing its Apple Jacks brand.

‘Who better than the people using the product to give you new ideas or [suggest] line extensions?’ Saunders asks.

Mary Mills, senior vice-president, director of strategic planning with Toronto-based Young & Rubicam, is another advocate of non-traditional research. Y&R, she says, has been contemplating doing something similar to the BBDO BrandCamp for one of its own clients.

‘If you’re looking for a totally new idea or you want to take a product or a service somewhere it’s never been before, then you’d better [take a creative approach with your research], or you’re going to get something that is pretty predictable,’ she says.

This, of course, isn’t to suggest that agencies and clients are about to abandon the use of focus groups any time soon.

Nor should they, says Domenic Caruso, president and COO of Toronto-based MacLaren McCann. It is, after all, still useful at times to gather a small group of consumers and ask them some pointed questions about your product or advertising.

‘You still need to talk to people about the issues, and at some point you’ve got to focus in on certain things and hear them talk,’ Caruso says.

Halliday, for his part, says BBDO will likely follow up the BrandCamp with at least some focus group research. While the effort provided new perspective on the young urban segment, the agency still needs to get a better grip on what, exactly, it has learned from all of this.

‘In many ways it’s raised more questions than it’s answered,’ he says. ‘But I don’t mind. This was deliberately supposed to be the first point of the process.’