Craig Redmond: Here’s llama spit in yer eye

Do you remember Dr. Dolittle's two-headed llama named Push Me Pull Me? The animal-anomaly was a metaphor for the paralytic inertia caused by stubborn disagreement. Or was it paralytic inertia caused by hopeless indecision?

Do you remember Dr. Dolittle’s two-headed llama named Push Me Pull Me? The animal-anomaly was a metaphor for the paralytic inertia caused by stubborn disagreement. Or was it paralytic inertia caused by hopeless indecision?

Either way, the llama couldn’t move an inch in any direction because of diametrically opposing forces mulishly pulling and pushing away from one another.

It’s a little like research firms and advertising agencies, if you think about it. For thousands of years now, research firms and ad agencies have squared off in a boardroom tug-of-war for the hearts and minds of their mutual client.

The research guys launch the slings and arrows of doubt, fear and that age-old mystery question of ulterior agency motive. The agency gang challenges the clients’ chutzpah and baits them into a collective gut check, damn the torpedoes, swan dive into the great marketing unknown.

And the client? They can feel their left and right brain being mercilessly torn asunder – their intellect leg wrestling with their intuition – their blind courage being fitted with the ugly spectacles of pragmatism.

But why must we leave our clients and their brands emotionally drawn and quartered underneath the boardroom table? Some of advertising’s greatest triumphs have been born out of priceless human insights foraged from consumer research, while modern day consumer research would not exist without the patronage and partnership of those advertising giants.

Consider for example, the unforgettable ‘Got Milk’ campaign. As much as Jeff Goodby might want you to think that the work simply sprinkled onto the page like pixie dust from beneath his silvery locks, it was actually inspired by verbatim testimonials gathered from a milk research study conducted in California in the early ’90s.

Milk consumption had declined steadily for 15 years despite 70% of Californians claiming that they drank it. So it was deemed necessary to understand how they could be encouraged to drink it more frequently. With research, they found some insightful nuggets – peanut and chocolate ones to be exact. When deprived the right to wash down a peanut butter sandwich or a chocolate chip cookie with a cold glass of milk, the participants reacted like rabid lab monkeys in anxious fits of anger and frustration.

Needless to say, the study delivered more than quantitative fact. It yielded a creative strategy of deprivation. And while Goodby and Silverstein may have delivered the magic for the milk campaign; it was consumer research that delivered the goods.

Here in Canada, research companies and ad agencies are even less likely to play nice. Smaller budgets, shorter lead times and intensifying pressure on the already strained marketing department all but ensure lively rivalry for client share of mind.

Some smaller agencies openly mock consumer research as a wasteful, mind-numbing dredge for the obvious, refusing to even partner with clients who believe in it. Other agencies just begrudgingly inherit that consumer gospel extracted from the other side of the two-way mirror. And then there’s the Canadian outpost of the global network conglom, receiving a landfill worth of global studies, whitepapers and research findings on a daily basis.

On the other side of the boardroom divide are local research firms of equally varying girth and lineage harbouring similar sentiments of resentment. They too must justify their existence and their budgets each and every day. So they vigorously defend their ‘quant/qual’ turf using notoriously sinister methods of measure with dastardly acronyms like ASI and ARS.

Even in Canada, however, creative and research can sometimes find each other’s G spot. Case in point? Dove ‘Evolution.’ Canada’s most famous agency export in recent history wasn’t just hatched from intuitive brilliance. In 2004, Unilever conducted a massive study among 3,200 women, ages 18 to 64 in countries all around the world. From that, the international brand team for Dove developed its strategy for real beauty, which informed the global ‘Real Beauty’ campaign.

And only after that did Ogilvy Toronto unleash ‘Evolution.’ Admittedly, it was the most eloquent, jaw-dropping expression of the Dove research. So considering miracle births like ‘Got Milk’ and ‘Evolution,’ why wouldn’t ad agencies and research firms collabor’mate more often?

Perhaps it’s because they are today’s business equivalent of Push Me Pull Me – two headstrong business adversaries, joined at the client hip but straining in opposite directions, and ultimately leaving that client at a standstill.

Under these economic conditions, clients will demand even deeper consumer insights and greater creative expressions. A motionless two-headed llama may struggle to deliver on that.

Which leaves the client with two options: convince Push Me Pull Me to bend over backwards and start seeing eye-to-eye, or seek out an entirely different animal.

Craig Redmond is VP creative director of Vancouver-based Concerto Marketing Group.