'This election finally proves that most market research is probably twaddle'

Matthew Charlton is the CEO of Brothers and Sisters. He was a founder of BETC London, has run agencies in London, Amsterdam and the US and has worked on brands including Johnnie Walker, PlayStation and Sony Ericsson.

Let’s not beat around the issue. 11 research polls were miles off and only one, the actual exit poll, with a sample of 20,000 people and guaranteed voters, has held up. We have an industry addicted to research, so what does this mean for us?

The BBC's exit poll projected onto broadcasting house

To me it’s clear: any marketing director who thinks they are derisking their decisions with most research runs a very high risk of peddling nonsense to their stakeholders.

The greatest quote I've ever heard on research is from my old boss Sir John Hegarty when I popped up to his office to inform him of the latest wave of research results a particular client had commissioned. Upon hearing the findings, Sir John just smiled and said: “The thing is Matthew, the trouble with research is it’s a bit like practising in front of the mirror.”

Which is of course true. Most of us in the industry have sat around listening to small focus groups trying to have concepts explained to them on a wet Wednesday night. Lots of things stuck on boards. And the agency, having spent months developing these ideas, has been told that 12 people is a statistically relevant number of people! We all doubt it but it’s another game the industry has asked us to play.

Surely it is time that creative agencies, which have for years been on the back foot with research companies pulling apart our ideas, use this election result to fight back. At the very least let's force the research companies who thrive on the promise of derisking creative decisions to really back up what they are saying.

The IPA has done some terrific work on debunking the accuracy of research and the contribution to developing the most effective work. At a minimum, we need to ask all of these companies really big questions before they drive a truck through all our work.

The reason that advertising is an art not a science is because people are very emotional in their final decision making. They interact with creative ideas in lots of different ways that are incredibly hard to measure. The exit poll works because it’s captured in the real moment of actual voting, not a stage-managed scenario. No hairbrushes singing in front of the mirror.

To quote Elvis Costello: “Writing about music is like dancing about architecture”. Once you accept that influencing people's emotions is an art form, surely now, after this election and the huge money that was spent on generating research twaddle, it is incredibly hard to measure in a useful and accurate way.

All I am saying is, can this be a turning point and we can now demand some proper answers? Otherwise I think my 'gut' may just be more accurate and more useful.

Matthew Charlton is CEO of Brothers and Sisters. He tweets @MJCharltonesq

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