Matthew Bull is the founder of The Bull-White House and a former Chief Creative Officer at Lowe and Partners Worldwide. He wrote a piece for Campaign about the closing of his ad agency that I found both compelling and sad, when a reader of this blog was kind enough to send me the link to it. In it, he talks about the closure of that agency, and the extent to which he feels the emphasis on market research is driving – and ultimately destroying – creative work of the kind he and his colleagues wanted to do.

Firstly, Matthew, thank you for an awesome article and for being so transparent and authentic; the world needs more brilliant creatives like you. I want to respond to your piece, especially your comment regarding your cohorts’ assertion that "…the biggest obstacle to producing great work was, they all unanimously said: research.”  

When I started my first Market Research company, Fresh Intelligence, one of the first products we developed was one we called Thirst®, a creative and copy-testing methodology. The driven reason for the creation of this tool and this methodology is exactly that which you addressed in your piece; I was working with many creative agencies, and I was feeling their pain. Creative and concept testing should never be about go/don’t go creative; should never be about creative agency vs. research agency; and should never devolve into “Let’s bash the creative,” or “How can we make the creative agency look bad?”

It should be about a collaborative process that empowers the creative side, making the campaign stronger and more unique; helping the work to stand out, to be competitively different, to provoke action, and to emotionally engage and meet client objectives, whether those are awareness, acquisition, retention, inspiration, etc.  It must add value to the process, not take away from it, much less diminish the contributions of the creative side.

Matthew,  I too have seen market research companies squash great creative campaigns, and intimidate clients who are too scared to risk going against the traditional old methodology, and thus risk becoming stagnant in their brands. I’m not here to sell Fresh Intelligence or to promote our Thirst methodology, but this was the very reason for its development. Sadly, in my view from the research side, most market research companies are still using normative benchmarks from the 1980s – and yes, it’s crazy.

Thirst® provides: A proven methodology using NowNorms™ - the most targeted, relevant, and up-to-date benchmarks available, superseding outdated generic norms. We look at insights on the category, customer, and competitive set that reveal drivers of success specific to your market, and most importantly, the optimization of your creative concept and message, based on conscious and unconscious drivers of human behaviour and memory.

Then we work with the creative team to give actionable recommendations on how to maximize the impact of your ads, not to destroy them. I believe that this benchmark will be the norm in the business going forward. That's how it should work; as a concerted effort to sharpen the product and aim it at the right target.

I’m sorry it didn’t come soon enough to save your agency.