One of my favourite films is The Third Man.
It features one my favourite film speeches, from Orson Welles.
If it came on TV I’d watch it without question.
I’d make sure I caught the very start.
I wouldn’t miss a minute.
And I’d think that was a great night’s TV.

I’d talk about it next day at the office.
Yup, I’d love it if they ever showed that film on the TV.
Funny thing though.
I’ve got that film on a DVD under the shelf the TV’s on.
I’ve had it there for years.
I keep meaning to watch it, but I never get around to it.
That doesn’t make any sense does it?
I thought I was just lazy.
But the other day I was talking to Gordon Smith, my art director partner.
Gordon asked if I’d seen Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels on telly the night before.
I said I caught a bit of it.
Gordon said he’d watched the whole thing, it was one of his favourite movies.
He said he watches it every time it comes on telly, he knows it off by heart.
Funny thing, he said.
He had the DVD sitting on the shelf under the telly.
So he could watch it any time he wanted.
He never bothered, but as soon as it came on TV he always watched it.
Tell me that isn’t strange.
But that’s the way people are: strange, idiosyncratic, eratic.
They don’t always conform to logic and certainly not to numbers.
The data would tell you there’s no point in showing those movies on TV in either of our houses, because we’ve got the DVDs.
So we’d hardly watch the same thing on telly would we?
A DVD is much more convenient, we can watch it whenever we want, pause, rewind, fast-forward.
Obviously everyone would prefer to watch a movie that way.
And if you asked anyone in focus groups, that’s exactly what they’d tell you.
So how come the facts don’t match the data?
Well here’s a thing, maybe there’s two kinds of TV.
Maybe there’s weekday TV and weekend TV.
Maybe it isn’t the technology that dictates to people.
Maybe it’s people that dictate to technology.
So on weekdays you come home knackered, flop in the chair and watch whatever’s on.
Maybe on weekends you’re not so tired, so maybe you take the time to open a bottle of wine and put on a DVD.
In the week you only get a few hours relaxation in the evening.
At the weekend you get two entire days off.
So maybe in the week logic loses out to lethargy.
Maybe the consumer dictates to the technology, instead of the other way round.
But most of the people in advertising want to be trendsetters and thought-leaders.
On the Technology Adoption Lifecycle Curve they are Innovators and Early Adopters.
They keep an eye out for anything innovative.
They are evangelists for it.
They want to be the first to buy any new technology.
To get there before anyone else is justification enough.
That’s not a problem, unless they think everyone is like them.
Because most people aren’t. Most people are in either the Early Majority or Late Majority segments.
They aren’t interested in technology for its own sake.
They are interested in their own lives.
They’re not interested in innovation unless they can see a way to use it in their lives.
So with the Innovators it’s technology first, life second.
But with most people it’s life first, technology second.
Most marketing people are Innovators or Early Adopters (16%).
But most consumers are Early or Late Majority (68%).
And there are over four times as many of them.
Maybe that’s why there is a definite split between the way marketing people see the world and the way the world really is.

And why the world doesn’t conform to data.


    Is the typo on ‘erratic’ deliberate, humourous or ironic?

    • Bex Tindle

      Given the value of the content of the article and the number of words typed… I can’t help but feel this is a little pedantic… You’re not in marketing of some sort are you Ray? 😉

  • Dave Trott

    Well spotted Ray.
    I went to art school not uni, so it’s a genuine mistake.
    I decided to leave it because (like Marshal MacLuhan: ‘The Medium is The Massage’) I think it’s actually better that way.

    • Bex Tindle

      Nice article Dave. Some very salient points for me personally. I’m a UX bod and for now specialise in research and the point you make about what people say they think and/or do and how they actually behave are not necessarily the same. As such we have to be very careful about the research methods we use e.g. contextual research such as diary studies or observation within the context of use to find out what people actually do rather than what they say they do, we have to be sure we ask the right questions e.g. not “In X situation what do you think you would do?”, and we need to get data from as many sources as possible to ensure we have as much of the complete picture as possible e.g. contextual research + current consumer trends + data on actual use such as web analytics data. I’ve just completed a contract in a team where personal and expert opinion as well as innovation often rules over understanding & satisfying customers’ needs – as you say the characteristics & behaviour of a target audience are usually very different from that of the team developing the product or service. Your article’s a nice reminder of things that are easy to forget – a reality check.

    • Sid Wheeler

      What kind of data are you talking about though, Dave?

      The kind of self-reporting that you find in focus groups is
      largely nonsense, I agree.

      Perhaps it is better to say that the world conforms to
      trends, and to find the idiosyncrasies within those trends we must be more
      demanding of the data – eschewing self-reporting for non-intrusive observation.

      I don’t think it’s enormously surprising to find that some
      people who own DVD’s don’t watch them.

      After all, there is plenty more going on in the ownership of
      it than something you might watch. We get the pleasure of the purchase, the
      knowledge that we have the option of accessibility and perhaps a bit of kudos
      in displaying on our shelves.

      Perhaps you don’t watch it because you know through
      ownership you can watch it tomorrow… and tomorrow… and tomorrow. But you never
      do. They call it immediacy bias – as you probably know. But when someone takes
      the decision to put it on for you – you’ll watch it.

      Personally it’s one reason why I don’t believe TV as we know
      it will be quick to die out – there are enough decisions to make without coming
      home and curating your own TV channel.

      The similarities between your and your art director’s
      behaviour hardly justifies a uniform conclusion for DVD owners. 
      If you are
      going to extrapolate that out, for example, to kids who would probably wear out a DVD as well as watching it on TV, then you risk subjectively manipulating the ‘data’ in
      exactly the same way as a focus group. 

  • Rachel Garrett

    Great article, totally agree with you Dave and Bex, we find a mix of methodologies done overtime gives you the best insight about your consumers. We’ve actually just started a campaign to ban focus groups and encourage real behaviour in research, check out this short video we’ve made if you’re interested

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