Their Bulletproof Vests

You grow accustomed to the heavy NYC Police and US Army presence in Penn Station. The stun guns and M16s amidst rush hour crowds don’t bother me.

What bothers me are the bulletproof vests.

Targets wear bulletproof vests, not guardians of the peace. And if these heavily armed, trained gunmen see themselves as targets, what do they see me as, and whom are they really there to protect?

Insight, Part 2: Do blondes have more fun?

In Part 1 of this musing, I mentioned the following data points (c/o the Harvard Business Review):

  • Blondes earn 7% more than brunettes
  • Husbands of blonde women earn an average of 6% more than the husbands of women with other hair colors

That said, in this case, synthesizing a sound insight is not as straightforward as it was in the case of Sedaris’ observed correlation between marshmallows and faith in god.

Firstly, there is the subject matter: even when asked under testing conditions, people are prone to over-report their income, and minimize the extent to which personal insecurities affect their choices about their appearance.

Secondly, to synthesize an insight, say, for a women’s beauty product, we’d also have to determine whether or not non-blonde women are propensed to change the color of their hair for financial gain or materialistic matrimony.

Thirdly, we’d probably want to survey employers as well, none of whom would admit to appearance playing a part in salary level – and most of whom would not even be conscious of this phenomenon if it proved to exist.

There are ways to adjust for all of this so that accurate data is captured during testing. However the accuracy of the data will not help to avoid the next pitfall in our beauty campaign scenario: What to do if a strong correlation between a woman’s desire to be blond and her desire for money proves to exist?

While “blonds have more money and more fun” may be a sound insight, it is also be rather a brash message for a beauty product. Or is it?

The beauty industry relies heavily on celebrity endorsement in their advertising, the implication being that a portion of a celebrity’s success is attributable to the way a product makes him or her look. More “established” celebrities, who tend to be older than “rising star” celebrities, are preferred, the subtext being “I got to where I am today with the help of the products that made be beautiful.” To paraphrase, “I’m rich because of the way I look, and you can be as well.” Or as Kelly LeBrock said on behalf of Pantene, “Don’t hate me because I’m beautiful.”

“Blonds have more money and more fun” would make for a ruthless tagline, but, it the case at hand, it is both a valid insight and a message which advertisers have successfully conveyed in subtle – and at times not so subtle ways.

In the end, one should never fear synthesizing an unflattering insight; affective creative can take the harshest of truths about human nature and deliver them in a ways that make us feel confident, optimistic and, yes, even beautiful.

Insight, Part 1: Correlation is *Something*

I was shamed by their good will and mortified by their cooking. There seemed to be some correlation between devotion to God and a misguided zeal for marshmallows.

– David Sedaris, c.o.g.

Planners, analysts and researchers of all shapes and sizes take pleasure in preaching, ad nauseam, that correlation and causation are not even distant mathematical cousins. That said, a client once put me in my place with a pithy truth on the topic: “It may not prove causation, but correlation is something!”

He, of course, was absolutely correct: correlation does not prove causation, but correlation damn sure is something. And not only is it something but, truth be told, correlation is often presisely what we look for when we collect and analyze consumer data.

Put another way, not only is correlation most definitely something, but that something might very well be the seed of a defining customer insight about a targetable segment.

Sedaris’ observation about religious faith and marshmallow culinary ingenuity – from his delightfully scathing essay, c.o.g. (book here, movie here) – is easy to frame as a research objective and test quantitatively. If correlation between faith, marshmallows, and, say, some rudimentary demographics proves to exist, this correlation alone might form the foundation for a sound marshmallow marketing strategy: think occasion-based messaging, premium and loading tactics, product development (marshmallows that melt at specific temperatures for specific purposes, marshmallows mixed with different spices), and product extensions (see cooks.com, not to mention Amazon).

Consumer insight? Yes!

Is it an actionable insight? Most definitely!

What of causation? Totally irrelevant at this early phase in our marshmallow renaissance scenario, but also a subject of crucial importance for later research waves.

This reminds me of an interesting factoid I heard a few years back by way of the Harvard Business Review:

  • Blondes earn 7% more than brunettes
  • The husbands blonde women marry earn an average of 6% more than the husbands of women with other hair colors

Consumer insight? To be continued…