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Memes Are A Marketing Opportunity Brands Can’t Ignore

Inspiration posted by Insight 0

Memes are a marketing opportunity brands can't ignore

On the first Saturday of 2017, Turkish-born chef Nusret Gökçe posted a video of his unique steak preparation on Instagram.

Later that day, a Twitter user in Houston shared the video along with her a nickname for Gökçe: "Salt Bae."

Before January was over, "Salt Bae" was as culturally relevant as one of the world's biggest movie stars.


This is the power of memes. A meme can break through the noise of the internet and into the world's consciousness in a matter of days. It's the type of reach usually limited to Super Bowl ads. Unsurprisingly, marketers are trying to harness memes for their brands.

To succeed, they'll need a deep understanding of meme culture, and of their audience.

What Is A Meme?

Scientist Richard Dawkins coined the term "meme" as an analogue to the word "gene." Dawkins defines a meme as "an idea, behavior, or style that spreads from person to person within a culture.” It’s similar to the way a gene spreads through organisms.

Internet memes are highly visual. The Salt Bae meme spread as people made their own comments and visual mashups of Gökçe's dramatic method of salting the steak.

salt bae photo with funny captions

While memes sometimes go viral, not all viral content is a meme. An incredible performance by a musician that millions of people watch is viral, but it's not a meme. People simply watch it. They don't add to it.

But the bizarre reaction of an audience member that people comment on and create their own stories around—that's a meme. A meme in its purest form is an idea, rather than standalone content.

The Life of a Meme

Most successful memes have a predictable, brief lifecycle. Often, a meme starts as original content that someone discovers, deems meme-able, and puts into a template for others to share.

Typically this process starts on meme-centric community sites like Reddit or 4Chan. Those sites feature mostly user-generated content. When members of the community upvote or comment on a post, it automatically gets more visibility to other members. Memes also start on more mainstream social networks like Twitter and Instagram, where they spread through likes, comments, and shares.

Once a meme catches on, the whole internet gets in on it with takes, remixes, and mashups. The meme migrates to mainstream social forms. Suddenly, it's is as talked-about as Chris Pratt.

salt bae remixes

Eventually, a successful meme leaks into the real world.

Entrepreneurs will try to make money off of it, and the mainstream media will catch on. You know a meme is dying when you see it on a t-shirt or on Good Morning America.

Where Memes Live

The most popular platforms where memes spread are the internet community Reddit and its associated photo platform, Imgur. Both sites have covetable audiences.

On Reddit, 87% of the audience is younger than 35; 63% is 24 or younger.

On Imgur, 74% of the audience is younger than 35, and the audience is 84% male. Advertisers view the site as a male-centric alternative to Pinterest, where the audience is 81% female.

Meme audiences are engaged: Imgur says that 83% of their audience spend at least three hours per week on the platform.

Brands constantly look for ways to engage with audiences on these platforms. Since 2015, Imgur has allowed brands to create promoted posts.

eBay was one of the first adopters, creating a series of posts based on Internet memes with links to products for sale on eBay. Home Decor That Brings Out Your Inner Geek alludes to cat photo memes and meme-derived slang.

cat meme in ebay advertising on imgur

Old Spice, Budweiser, and Frito Lay have also advertised on Imgur.

"We started tracking the amount of time people are spending on these promoted posts, and it's 25 seconds a post," Imgur VP of Marketing and Sales Steve Patrizi told AdWeek. "That's getting pretty close to the gold standard of TV advertising."

Why Memes Are Important

Memes are a visual reference guide to the trends of the wider culture. As a meme spreads, creators mash it up with aspects of culture that matter to them in that moment—what's in the news, their favorite shows, how they are feeling about the world.

The way people remix the meme reflects what's important to them. Taken together, they are a time-stamped snapshot of internet culture.

The way people remix memes reflects what's important to them.

Often, memes reflect the creator's identity. memes contribute to slang by spreading new terms like "fam," "on fleek," and "af." They become default reactions and celebrations. They're a means of expressing emotion.

football player does the salt bae motion

Meme creators use the form to bring underground phenomenons to the attention of new audiences. "Juju On That Beat" started as a novelty song that went viral. This low-budget video of two guys dressed as clowns doing that dance has 40 million views.

That's a level of engagement that even huge brands can't manufacture. At time of writing, Chevrolet's official YouTube account only had 35 million views.

Memes also serve as safe space where people can express themselves about difficult or controversial topics. Creators can imply something they're afraid to say explicitly through the medium.

Anxiety and depression

anxiety and depression in meme form

Race in the U.S.

race in the us meme

Politics (Note: the Pokémon cards are photoshopped in!)

politics in meme form

Who Makes Memes Big?

The people who create and spread memes form a community. They take pride in seeing a meme that they've worked on spread across the internet. They even track meme history with encyclopedic precision.

This community can launch a meme into the national consciousness in a matter of days. Brands who want their memes to succeed need to win them over. Here are our suggestions:

1) Always stay in the loop

Memes come and go at lightning speeds. If your content isn't fresh, it will be ridiculed on places like the #FellowKids subreddit.

2) Deploy memes in ephemeral media that you can take back

Because the Internet changes so fast, you don't want your memes in any format you can't easily take back if it hits the wrong note. A billboard is a bad place for a meme, and a meticulously-planned rollout is a bad strategy. Move quick. Fail fast.

3) Understand the line between cutting-edge and pandering

The meme community is savvy—they know brands exist to make sales, not mirth. Content that adopts meme styling for baldly commercial purposes won't succeed. tic tac ad trying to use a meme

Instead, be honest: “Look, I am a company that’s advertising, but this post/meme is interesting even when removed from my marketing campaign.” Wendy's brutally honest Twitter persona inspired fans to create their own meme: Smug Wendy.

4) Meet your target audience where they are—don’t advertise to the “general audience”

Memes aren't meant to appeal to everyone. Or at least a single take on a meme isn't. Target meme-based content to the group you're advertising to, and in the subreddits and message boards where they hang out.

Target meme-based content to the group you're advertising to.

How Research Can Help Memes Succeed

Successful memes start at a grassroots level, bubbling up from a specific subreddit or other online community. To succeed with this community, you need to understand it on a deep level.

A pre-meme research project would include:

  • Identifying the segment of your target audience that shares memes
  • Learning what memes they share and why
  • Finding the specific message boards / subreddits where they spend their time

Like every meme, "Salt Bae" died down. But the surrounding publicity was so substantial that Gökçe is now planning a restaurant in Midtown Manhattan. As a marketing opportunity, memes are too popular to ignore.

Today’s Consumers Love Brands—And Expect More From Them

Millennials posted by Insight 0

As a portrait of teenage angst, The Breakfast Club holds up well after more than 30 years. But the film's non-diverse cast and social categories of "athlete," "princess," and "brain" are as outdated as the computer-less library where the characters served detention.

More than Baby Boomers and Generation X, Millennials and Generation Z use brands to define their identity. Teens today look for representations of themselves, and are much more likely to identify as "Swifties," "Potterheads," or "Whovians" than any of the categories Generation X used.

Superfans like these are very loyal, but that loyalty has a flip side—their expectations for brands go far beyond simply providing a quality product or compelling content.

Driven by Millennials and Generation Z, consumers now expect brands to behave just like their friends do, including:

  • Owning up to mistakes and fixing them quickly
  • Connecting with them in an authentic, personal way
  • Standing for more than the bottom line

Own Up to Mistakes and Fix Them Quickly

When 28-year-old Anna Hezel moved in with her boyfriend, she bought a $600 Peggy couch from West Elm. She wanted, she later wrote, “to prove [her] adulthood with mid-century furniture.”

But the couch was built so poorly, and the brand showed so little sympathy for her complaints, she ended up throwing it out and writing a long article for The Awl about her disastrous experience.

Hezel's article took off on social media, inspiring other Millennials to share photos of the frayed stitching and detached buttons of their own Peggy couches.

peggy couch tweet

West Elm's response? They agreed to refund all customers who bought the couch within the last three years.

Today's consumer has dozens of ways make their complaints public. Any story, anywhere, can mushroom into a public relations crisis. One study of UK consumers found that social media complaints increased eightfold between 2014 and 2015. Sometimes the shaming is deserved, but other times it can be a form of cyber-bullying. Often, companies (and consumers!) have no way to confirm whether the complaints are valid.

Because of this, many companies are faced with a “One strike and you’re out” ballgame. A single decision or action, however well-intentioned, can turn into a debate that threatens years of loyalty-building. Even established brands like West Elm are vulnerable to sudden changes in consumer attitudes towards them—like a best-selling couch rendered worthless overnight.

The stronger the brand, the less likely these tactics will have an impact. Starbucks was ridiculed for its "Race Together" campaign, which encouraged baristas to discuss racial issues with customers. But when the company walked back its request for baristas to write the phrase on cups, the ridicule went away too.

Smart brands don't hide from customer complaints. Just like a close friend, they want to know when they've done something to offend—and they want to repair the relationship.

JetBlue's customer service team quickly answers customer questions, and sometimes has airline staff follow up in-person at the terminal. On their Twitter account they help customers, respond to customers, and even joke around with them.

When brands own up to mistakes and make good, customers are often even more supportive of the brand. After all, they're only "human."

But consumer outreach doesn't have to be reactive. Brands should identify the underlying motivations for negative sharing and use this research to proactively surprise and delight their customers.

Connect with Customers in an Authentic, Personal Way

How do friends build trust? Not with blast emails or marketing jargon. Brands who default to these tactics won't succeed with young consumers, who seek authentic, personal connection to brands.

more than 7 in 10 teens say it's important for brands to be authentic

Insight Strategy Group research shows that more than 7 in 10 teens say it's important for brands to be authentic. Younger generations are savvy about advertising and seek communication that feels more honest.

Consumers who identify closely with brands expect those brands to show up in the same social media feeds where their friends are. The clothing company Everlane, which targets a Millennial and Generation Z audience, declared in 2015 that Snapchat would be the brand's main social channel. To create an authentic connection the brand uses Snapchat to show behind-the-scenes footage from its design studio.

Wendy's uses its Twitter account to banter with people—and sometimes scold them—just like a friend would.

wendy's roasts consumers

In the media world, networks and movie studios are increasingly letting fans and actors interact in the more intimate setting of social media. After Stranger Things was renewed for a second season, the youngest members of the show's cast conducted a 16-minute Facebook Live session, playing '80s trivia games and answering audience questions.

Reddit Ask Me Anythings (AMAs) allow stars to respond to fans' questions directly. Passengers star Chris Pratt did an AMA in December 2016, two weeks before the movie's release.

Between responding to customer complaints and giving fans behind-the-scenes access, brands can open up a constant feedback loop, driving conversation that can not only increase brand loyalty, but inform product decisions and future marketing campaigns.

Stand for More Than the Bottom Line

Brands need to go beyond just knowing what issues are important to their audience—they need to support their audience with social stances of their own. In March 2016, North Carolina enacted a law regulating restroom access in that state. LBGT advocates decried the law as discriminatory against transgendered people. More than 70 brands announced their opposition to the law. The NBA moved its 2017 All-Star Game out of Charlotte. Deutsche Bank stopped plans to hire 250 new employees in the state.

Hobby Lobby, a chain of craft stores with a more conservative audience, sued the U.S. Government and won a Supreme Court case, arguing that the Affordable Care Act violated the company's religious beliefs.

brands need to support their audience with social stances of their own

When sexual harassment allegations against Bill O'Reilly went public, activists targeted brands that advertise on O'Reilly's Fox News show. More than 80 brands pulled advertisements from the show, and O'Reilly was fired.

With the news cycle constantly churning, and advertising diffused across thousands of sites and pieces of content, it's a daily effort for brands to maintain their image. But they have to. Because consumers have so many options, it's easy for them to avoid brands that don't align with their values—and throw support behind brands who stand up for shared beliefs.

Film and TV creators know that their content will perform better if the audience makes a personal connection to the actors involved. But their content can also lose part of its audience if an actor's statements or behavior offends a key demographic. The 2016 film Birth of a Nation faced a boycott and protests after sexual assault allegations against writer, director, and star Nate Parker came to light.

In 2015, the movie Aloha, set in Hawai'i, featured Emma Stone playing a character described as half-Chinese and one-quarter Hawaiian. The Media Action Network for Asian Americans released a statement condemning the film's casting.

In contrast, when making the movie Moana, Disney convened a panel of advisers from Polynesia, who weighed in on everything from how the characters were drawn to the lyrics of the songs they sang.

Every choice a brand makes will be debated on social media. Brands can't please everyone, but they must at least avoid stances and choices that offend their target audience.

Key Takeaway

The intense identification consumers now feel for content, companies, and products is both an opportunity and a challenge for brands. Superfans can be reliable customers for decades, and no-cost marketing engines that never stop.

But when a brand lets a superfan down, that negative experience feels much more personal—it's an attack on their identity. Just like a friendship, the consumer relationship requires effort, empathy, and near-daily maintenance.

5 Essential Elements for a TV Show’s Season 2 Success

Stuff to Spark You posted by Insight 0
going into every new season, a show needs a business strategy

According to Metacritic, of the 44 scripted shows that debuted on major networks in the 2015-16 season, only 19 were renewed. Any show that survives its first season has beaten long odds.

What's next? Making it to season three, of course.

These five key elements of season two success are based on Insight Strategy Group’s extensive experience surveying and interviewing media audiences.

1) Build Cliffhangers Around a Show's Main Characters

Planning for season two success must begin before season one ends.

To build anticipation for season two, build mystery into the end of season one. But not just any mystery. Cliffhangers should involve the characters that the show's superfans care about most. Storylines about secondary or less-beloved characters won't build audience interest—audiences just don't care.

Know which characters your superfans connect with before you plot your season-ending storylines.

2) Develop a Business Plan

No show makes it to a second season without a devoted core audience. But if that audience doesn't grow, a third season isn't likely to happen.

Going into every new season, a show needs a business strategy. Often this is a choice between deepening engagement among the target audience or expanding the show's appeal to a wider audience.

For example, many of today's prestige shows have a unique narrative structure. These shows might be able to reach a broader audience with a more conventional structure, but that would turn off the audience they've built.

It's a tricky problem—one that research can help solve.

3) Learn How to Super-Serve Your Core Audience

Audiences connect with television shows for a combination of these reasons:

Connection to Characters

Insight Strategy Group research shows that nine in ten TV viewers 18-49 say they enjoy characters dealing with moral or ethical dilemmas.

Audiences take the scraps and hints about television characters and construct versions of them that make them as real as anyone they know. Viewers’ investment and emotional connection make them care about the character's life.

Psychographic Needs

Audiences often watch television to help them process challenges in their own lives, or to challenge their own intellects.

Insight Strategy Group research shows that more than seven in ten TV fans 18-49 say they love shows that make them reflect on their own lives.

Viewing Occasion Needs

Audiences pick different shows to fulfill different needs at different times of the day: The show they watch in the den after Sunday dinner with the rest of the family is not the same one they watch in bed on their iPad.

Once a show has made it through season one, research can identify which of these factors drives audiences to watch. Creators can then decide which aspects of the show to emphasize to delight the audience even more.

4) Keep the Focus on the Main Story and Characters

Now that viewers can get an entire show's run on demand, few pick up a show in the middle. If a target viewer hasn't watched a show yet, they will catch up before the season two premiere.

As such, rather than using early episodes of season two to re-introduce the characters, shows should immediately pick up the cliffhangers from season one.

Shows should also never suddenly introduce new characters that might take the spotlight off of the ones audiences love. Audiences aren't as likely to connect with new characters unless they link to the main characters' families or existing relationships.

know which characters your superfans connect with

In addition, because audiences are so engaged, "previously on" montages don't need to be as long by the second season of a show. Many viewers fast-forward through them. "Next time on" clips are a better way to use this time. Viewers love getting hints about where the story is headed.

5) Use Teasers to Create Urgency and Intent-to-View

Fans follow entertainment news and even actors' Twitter accounts. They don't need to be reminded that a show exists—they want to get excited about it.

To fulfill this need, develop teasers to air in the weeks leading up to the season two premiere that are designed to:

  • Energize existing viewers, getting them to talk about the show and share the teasers on social media
  • Compel potential viewers to move a show out of their consideration queue and into their active list of shows

In conjunction with the marketing campaign, make all episodes of season one available free on demand so potential viewers can catch-up.

Season two teasers can incorporate the audience research from season one, highlighting characters and other aspects of the show that viewers love. But never reveal major plot points from season one, or anything definitive about the cliffhangers heading into season two. No spoilers! Audiences will want to make these discoveries on their own.

Once a scripted television show navigates the treacherous waters of season one, season two provides calmer sailing. Audience research helps by identifying the essential elements of a show's success, as well as what can be added or changed to increase fan devotion or audience size.

5 Rules for engaging Millennials as employees and consumers

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By Slaine Jenkins, Director.

I recently had the pleasure of facilitating a panel discussion on “The Future Millennial Workplace” at this year’s Youth Marketing Strategy conference in Brooklyn. We explored the various ways companies can create workplace experiences that younger generations want to engage in, and shared how we see unique Millennial mindsets and motivations reshaping workplaces now and in the future. As the conversation transpired, it became clear that what matters to Millennials when "shopping" for a job has many parallels with what they look for in the brands and products they "hire" to play key roles in their lives. Five key insights emerged as ways to build strong connections with Millennials from the office to the shopping cart, and beyond:

  • 1. Appeal to their ideals, but give them tools to get real. American Millennials are pragmatic idealists. They’re a generation encouraged to pursue their dreams, and empowered with the digital tools to do so. Millennials commit themselves to goals that are consistent with their personal beliefs and values – and then think logically about how to get there. A great example of this comes from Erica Nicole, founder & CEO of YFS magazine, who talked about a “do what you’re best at and outsource the rest” mentality. This Millennial mantra is reflected in their smart and efficient approach to both career and brand decisions. Warby Parker is another great example of a brand that appeals to Millennials’ idealistic desire for purpose, while strongly delivering on their pragmatism through product, service, and overall user experience.
  • 2. Give them hands-on control, not just handouts. Millennials value flexibility over freebies. What’s most important to them is having a voice in their experiences, from workplace policies and culture to brand engagements. While few will ever say no to free office snacks and brand swag, handouts like these won’t attract as much Millennial attention or loyalty as offerings that give them flexibility and control. In the workplace this can look like policies that allow working remotely or adjustable office hours, and for brands this is embodied in products and services that are versatile, empowering, and personalized. Innovative brands like Rent the Runway and Birch Box are good examples.
  • 3. Boost their personal brands. Millennials are hyper-aware of their personal brands. Many even manage a portfolio of social media profiles across platforms, balancing and experimenting with different parts of their personal, professional, and aspirational identities. Snapshots of office life and branded products alike play an important role as building blocks constructing their personal brands. And in today’s meta culture, merely talking about the right brands and curating the right content can build cultural capital and social currency without spending a dime. This need for content to fuel self-identity offers many opportunities for personal brand infusion strategies. By creating an internal and external brand experience that Millennials want to be associated with, you’ll make them want to include you in their personal brand expressions.
  • 4. Offer “freelance” opportunities. They’ve got side hustles. Millennials talk about their day jobs and their dream jobs, often working towards the latter through self-made gigs. They also “freelance” in their brand and content engagements – relying on one brand or content platform to meet one need, and another the next. This is particularly true in their content diets as they engage with different content providers throughout the day across formats and platforms (e.g., Snapchat on their phone, a live sports game on TV, and Netflix on their iPad). By offering timely, snackable content that is short form and part of current cultural conversations, you’ll get your brand on their list of go-to freelance destinations.
  • 5. Know their loyalty is contingent. Unwavering brand loyalty is a thing of the past. Millennials' loyalty is contingent on what a brand represents and offers, not the idea of the brand itself. For many, this mentality carries over to work as the average Millennial’s tenure at a company is significantly shorter than prior generations'. Millennial loyalty can be bolstered by innovating and pushing your brand or workplace forward in new and unexpected ways.

I share these rules with an awareness that we’ve all read and heard numerous stereotypes about Millennials as employees and as consumers. Some of these stereotypes are true, but many are highly exaggerated. While the five rules above are grounded in truths we’ve seen in our work with Millennials, they are undoubtedly ripe with nuance when looking at specific Millennial sub-groups. To make matters more complex, Millennials are a moving target. They’re growing up, and what we have come to know about them is evolving as they enter new life stages. When we think “Millennial,” we tend to think college age. But the oldest Millennials are now in their mid-30s, with many starting to form their own families. How will their mindsets continue to impact your business ecosystem in the future – from workplace structures, to media content and consumption, to consumer needs and behavior?

In Human Centered Innovation, Empathy is not Enough

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Innovation has never been more important, nor more challenging, as today's businesses face markets, technologies, and cultural landscapes of accelerating dynamism and complexity.

It’s no surprise then that approaches like Design Thinking have risen to prominence on their promise to supercharge creativity and reduce the uncertainty inherent in product development. At their best, these human-centered methodologies help build an empathic understanding of the consumer experience through techniques like ethnography and co-creation exercises. These are valuable tools to help develop more innovative and effective solutions by revealing consumers’ authentic practices, latent needs, and unarticulated pain points.

However, empathy alone only gets you so far. At their worst, these techniques can lead to naïve empiricism, stale ideas, and an over-reliance on consumers to drive the ideation process.

Being able to see the world through your consumers’ eyes should be an end result for all research, but it’s only a first step toward deeper insight and creative thinking. Empathy-building is a “bottom-up” approach that’s incomplete if not combined with a “top-down” analysis of the contexts in which consumers live, learn, and make choices. Narrowly practiced user-centeredness leaves unanswered important questions about how cultural and social factors shape needs, priorities, desires, beliefs, and practices.

Answering these questions is critical for brands seeking to stay ahead in markets and cultural landscapes that increasingly look like fast moving targets. Relevance, brand engagement, and competitive advantage are at stake if the systemic factors that shape consumers’ values and behaviors are ignored.

What’s needed is a holistic approach. Fusing empathy with social science’s conceptual tools and frameworks provides a scaffold to see beyond current needs and routines, to the socio-cultural processes and relationships that shape them. It is only through this bottom-up, top-down perspective that we can understand the principles and pathways that point to potential futures, and to fresh territories for breakthrough innovation.

By Aaron Frey, Senior Creative Associate.

What exactly are you trying to disrupt?

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When chasing innovation it’s easy to get lost in our dreams and lose track of reality. It’s part of being a dreamer. As innovators, we believe so strongly that we’ve found the answer that we start to forget what the question was. We get “innovation blinders.” We live in an economy where dreams can come true in a major way, but they can also blow up in spectacular fashion.

Innovators have a long history of creating products and services that have failed. One of the biggest lessons that I’ve personally learned from these experiences is that there isn’t a demand for every supply. Innovation can be costly, but it’s critical for any business that wants to withstand the test of time (ahem, Kodak).

Here are a few steps that you can take to avoid falling victim to innovation blinders:

1. Employ a devil’s advocate.
This person is critical to any innovation team because they keep everyone in check. When done right, this person challenges and grounds the team, while often pushing its ideas forward. One of the biggest dangers of innovation blinders is that it’s difficult to know when you have them on. The human brain has an incredible ability to rationalize almost anything, and when you’re innovating that ability can be a financial drain if left unchecked. It’s important to get a gut check from someone outside the core innovation team, just to make sure you haven’t lost our way.

2. Talk to the market
“If I had asked my customers what they wanted they would have said a faster horse.” – Henry Ford

This quote speaks to the importance and dangers of talking to the market. Humans have difficulty conceptualizing an idea that significantly different from their previous experiences. The average person in the early 1900’s couldn’t have predicted how common the car would become – which is why we’re lucky Mr. Ford came along. If Mr. Ford had taken the market’s word at face value he wouldn’t have pursued his dreams.

But the quote still tells a lot about customers’ needs at the time: They wanted to go faster. As an innovator and a marketer, that little insight provides direction through the question “How can I help them go faster?” If you know the question, you have a better chance at finding the right answer.

3. Repeat
As an innovation evolves so will peoples’ reaction. It’s important to have multiple touchpoints throughout the process to best identify themes and underlying customer needs, and to check that you still know what question you’re answering.

Today’s world is filled with customers and consumers asking questions that call for innovative answers. As an innovator and a dreamer, I strive to invent answers that push society forward. The beginning of these projects are always exciting because they start with the most important question: What exactly are we trying to disrupt?


By Chris Tolan, Senior Analyst

Hitting Hard or Hardly Hitting? Questioning in the 2016 Primary Debates

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Will you say anything to get elected? That question was posed to Hillary Clinton in the first Democratic debate of the 2016 race last week. It’s a tough question and one meant to put the former First Lady on the defensive. But it wasn’t a barbed challenge from a rival candidate in a heated moment of fierce debate. It was a question from Anderson Cooper, the moderator, and it was the first question of the night.

Voters today are accustomed to seeing candidates challenged and barraged as TV cameras or personal phones capture every moment. We wait with bated breath for the next gaffe, misstep, or Daily Show highlight. When Anderson Cooper opens the debate with challenging and direct questions to each candidate, his heart is in the right place. We want greater transparency and accountability in our candidates. Those running for office should be subject to the highest scrutiny. No past decision or personal detail is off the table.

But campaigns have adjusted to this scrutiny as well. Questions of principles, loyalty, and consistency are calmly met with well-rehearsed deflections. Candidates are more likely to pull off a neatly spun sidestep than they are to squirm and stutter under the microscope. In the blink of an eye, political expediency and pandering becomes having a range of views and learning from new information and experiences. In last week’s debate, the candidates rarely seemed as polished and prepared as when they were answering the most accusatory and sensitive questions.

The Democratic debate was not unique in opening with questions that confronted candidates one by one. FOX took the same approach in its Republican debate. The moderating approach stuck out less in that debate, where candidates were more eager to point fingers at each other and to speak out in stronger language. The subject of most of the post-debate buzz was of course GOP frontrunner Donald Trump, whose campaign strategy centers on making statements that seem off the cuff rather than calculated. It is little surprise that in comparison the Democratic debate struck many viewers as boring and uneventful.

In an age where campaigns are meticulously managed and candidates are coached through tested, PR-ready answers, direct interrogation falls flat. The questions that reveal the true character and political vision of the candidates are not questions that challenge them so much as questions that are challenging.

While candidates are on a bright stage with microphones and cameras rolling, they’re also answering questions about their beliefs, their decisions, and themselves. And people are more likely to open up about these topics when they feel listened to, respected, and comfortable. After all, if we know anything about a presidential race in the 21st century, it’s that attacks will fly and plenty of mud will be slung. A more revealing and personal debate might have taken place with a moderator more focused on fostering open dialogue.

In market research, we spend a lot of time asking questions. And we spend a lot of time thinking about asking questions. Difficult questions are not bad questions. They are often the most necessary and fruitful that you can ask. But we also know that good answers come from respondents who are comfortable, at ease, and encouraged to be thoughtful. It’s not a matter of choosing questions that are easy or tough. It’s a matter of how and when to use the many different types of queries to get the most honest and relevant answers.


by Calen Cole, Senior Analyst


You won’t believe what happened after I wrote this blog

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… I got a snack.

Sorry. Not what you were expecting? Well, welcome to my world where I find myself clicking through links on social media despite knowing that the other end of the link will bring me junk. Headlines are supposed to do hard work but the ante has been upped by motivating clickbait that plagues the internet. Clickbait are those headlines that you can’t resist clicking - the salacious and tempting ones that you click only to find recycled Top 10 content on the other side.

Things like:

“Avoid the flu with this one weird trick”
“400 signs you have free time”
“Most embarrassing reactions to trying ghost peppers”

Why do we fall for it?

  • Most obviously, we are driven because we are curious. Curiosity is at the core of all good headlines but when it comes to clickbait it is more that the reader has to have the cliffhanger solved. Even though we rationally KNOW that the headline’s promise won’t be paid off there is a little part of us that wants to believe that at the other end of the headline the “5 Secrets of Napping to Lose Weight” is really life-changing
  • We also harbor anxiety that the holy grail of tips/recipes/interviews/photos are actually at the other end of that link and that by not clicking your life would be unfulfilled.
  • The unconscious importance of social currency also drives the click. We click so that we can share the content before anyone else. This often means that we don’t even read the entirety of the content before we call it a “must read” and post it on Facebook. (This is actually a whole other syndrome called sharebait but that is for another day. There has been research that there is no correlation between people sharing and people actually reading what they are sharing.)

Clickbait has gotten a pretty bad rap and companies like Facebook and Google have already put limits and filters to spare their users the temptation. Beware though because it seems that the language of clickbait has been given a kinder, gentler euphemism known as the curiosity gap.

Jon Stewart once said that clickbait headlines remind him of carnival barkers. That said, step right up and find out 10 reasons we will have an avocado shortage.


by Jen Drexler, Senior Vice President

The Paradox of Choice in Today’s New Content Landscape

posted by Insight 0

By Sarah Gardiner

Within the past few years there has been a proliferation of content and with it a proliferation of choice. The landscape feels like a seemingly infinite abyss of shows across a multitude of providers and platforms – not to mention the amount of extraordinarily high-quality options (I'll save that topic for another time). The savviest of consumers (often Millennials) take this in stride, as the expectation for much of what they interact with is about navigating a multitude of choice, in the goals of high customization, personalization, access, and expression. However, the less savvy may feel overwhelmed.

Given this, it is even more crucial for someone (a friend or trusted social media source) or something (a brand or network) to tell them what's out there. And, more importantly, what's worthy of their time. They need a curator. That’s a step in the right direction, yes, but what if this curator also removes the huge obstacle of choice?

“Learning to choose is hard. Learning to choose well is harder. And learning to choose well in a world of unlimited possibilities is harder still, perhaps too hard.”

“When faced with overwhelming choice, we are forced to become “pickers,” which is to say, relatively passive selectors from whatever is available. Being a chooser is better, but to have the time to choose more and pick less, we must be willing to rely on habits, customs, norms, and rules to make some decisions automatic.”

― Barry Schwartz, The Paradox of Choice: Why More Is Less

Enter Netflix.

Choose just once, and then your job is done. That first choice gets you everywhere. And “picking” becomes virtually obsolete.

You choose to watch 30 Rock, and the next episode magically plays for you 15 seconds later, thanks Liz Lemon…

Paradox of Consumer Choice

…or you want to jump in where you left off and simply click a button to “Continue Watching”…

Paradox of Consumer Choice

…or you’re feeling a Walter White shaped void in your life (which Better Call Saul can’t quite fill – or maybe that’s just me?) and you click on “More Like This” to find the next best thing.

Paradox of Consumer Choice

I mean, sure Netflix doesn’t get it right 100% of the time, especially if I’m logged in as my husband (Why is it recomending Visually-striking Cerebral Sci-Fi & Fantasy to me? Actually… thanks, I kind of do love that stuff), or if he’s logged in as “Sarah” (Uh… why is it recomending Witty TV Shows Featuring a Strong Female Lead?) – but that’s a risk we’re willing to take when it means we don’t have to flip through 1000+ TV channels to see what’s on.

So, how can you help today’s consumers “choose well in a world of unlimited possibilities”?

Follow Netflix’ lead and explore how you can:

  • Establish your brand as a curator consumers can trust
  • Empower consumers by limiting the choices they need to make
  • Enable consumers to customize and personalize
  • Encourage and build loyalty by creating a two-way relationship where you give back in different ways (e.g., your own version of “if you like that you may also like”)?

By successfully eliminating obstacles of choice, you can inspire continued customer engagement with your content, product, or service.

Sarah Gardiner is Vice President at Insight Strategy Group.

Exciting News at Insight!

posted by Insight 0

MarketCast, a leading entertainment-focused market research firm based in Los Angeles, today announced its acquisition of Insight Strategy Group, a top research and strategy agency based in New York City.

Insight Strategy Group decodes consumer insights to fuel clients’ brand growth, and content, product and service innovation. Its core services include segmentation and targeting strategy, brand positioning and tracking, product innovation and testing, and customer experience strategy. Leveraging deep expertise anchored in the social sciences, Insight Strategy Group is a go-to partner for media and entertainment companies and brands for audience authority studies, concept development, pilot testing, series maintenance, and brand franchise tracking. Founded by co-CEOs Stacey Mathias and Boaz Mourad in 1999, the agency also has established industry practices in lifestyle, consumer goods, retail, and financial and professional services, and boasts a pre-eminent youth practice, InsightKids.

“We are delighted to partner with Stacey and Boaz and the entire Insight team in this next chapter of growth for our two companies,” said Henry Shapiro, CEO of MarketCast. “Our agencies share a passion for helping clients solve their most pressing marketing and development challenges through innovative and world-class research and consulting services. The combination will benefit our clients immediately, particularly in the TV and OTT sectors where the pace of change is as thrilling as it is stunning.”

“At a time of disruption and opportunity, our combined expertise in content, brands, and audiences’ needs and behaviors position our shared enterprise as leaders in the global entertainment industry,” said Stacey Matthias. “As ever, Insight Strategy Group’s goal is to fuel our clients’ success by enriching content and marketing efforts to resonate deeply with audiences across platforms and occasions.”

“Insight Strategy Group’s established practices in lifestyle, CPG, retail, and professional services will grow in impact, efficiency, and scale with this union, through services that both broaden our capabilities and accelerate innovation,” added Boaz Mourad. “Across industries, our clients will benefit from our expanded US and global presence and capabilities.”

About MarketCast

Based in Los Angeles, with offices in New York, Boston, and London, MarketCast is a leading provider of marketing research services for the global entertainment industry. Through a variety of consulting services backed by rigorously scientific quantitative and qualitative research methods, MarketCast works in collaboration with marketers and researchers across the entertainment spectrum in the development and execution of their marketing strategies, from early concept exploration through distribution. MarketCast services are available worldwide, and include materials testing (trailers, TV spots, print ads, etc.), concept and positioning studies, exit polls, recruited audience screenings, tracking studies, and focus groups, as well as a host of custom offerings including brand/franchise studies, title tests, post-release studies, and attitudes and usage studies. MarketCast is a portfolio company of RLJ Equity Partners and GE Asset Management. For more information, visit www.mcast.com.

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