There was an interesting article on Understanding Insights over at Campaign Planning blog run by John Drake. It is a great read overall; the one thing that stood out for me was the definition of an insight:
An insight is a penetrating observation about consumer behavior that can be applied to unlock growth.
My first exposure to Account Planners was in HTA (now JWT) where a team worked on the Unilever business. In fact, Planners were an integral part of any MNC business. Later on, I saw them in action on new business pitches or large Indian corporate brands. During these years, the best definition of an insight that I came across (as told to me by a veteran ad man who is a Planner) is: ‘unthought known‘. In other words, it is unearthing human behavior which is incisive and not so apparent and on the surface. Good insights usually evoke a personal connect (‘I know how that feels like’ or ‘I know what you are talking about – it happened to me too’). And when presented in an unusual, interesting manner magic happens.
In the advertising business, discussions (arguments more likely) happen around what qualifies to be a good consumer insight. Very often, mere observations or facts will be put down as an insight. It is a difficult process, no doubt, to arrive at a good, relevant, usable consumer insight. And even difficult to craft one in writing. Without any special training in this aspect it is usually left to individual brilliance to come up with great insights. And oh, never has a consumer insight come from a focus group. So I am a bit skeptical about the ‘insight mining’ exercises. To add to the confusion there is lat of jargon about different kinds of insights. As Simon Law said in his excellent 2006 presentation, there is an abundance of misused words in marketing:
Broad societal changes and insights arising from those can lead to product launches or product innovations (wet grinders, on-the-go nutrition bars). Ditto with deep understanding of local culture. So that’s about products arising out of ‘insights’.
When it comes to advertising, it is not necessary that the most noticed, memorable effective ads are based on strong insights. Ads can be merely entertaining and drive home a point. The Vodafone ‘pup’, the Zoozoo series come to mind. But there are a few which are based on a true, universal consumer insight. The advantage of advertising that is based on a strong, relevant insight is that it provides a deeper connect and therefore longevity to the communication idea. Take the Naukri.com, Hari Sadu ad for example. The ad is based on the insight that ‘people don’t leave jobs, they leave their bosses‘. When you watch the ad, a mental picture of your own boss or you as boss develops in your mind. And a deep connect with the proposition happens. The ad went on to become popular and deliver business results. Or take Santoor soap. The advertising proposition of ‘skin that lies about your age ‘s based on the insight that ‘women love it when they are mistaken for someone younger’. It is a high when you are thought to be younger than your real age. The advertising proposition has remained unchanged for decades only to be refreshed in terms of execution.
Another interesting aspect of how marketers (and agencies) use an observation or a fact to convert it into an insight. As an example, ‘people consume chocolate bars to satiate small pangs of hunger’ would be an observation. But when you say, ‘when small hunger pangs strike people tend to be irritable and act weird’ is an insight. Snickers used that superbly in their ‘you are not you when you are hungry‘ commercials. Of late, the P&G effort on ‘Thank You, Mom’ is gaining traction because the insight resonates with consumers. So advertising without insight can be fun, effective. But when coupled with a consumer insight it gives longevity to the campaign idea – ‘legs’ as they say in agencies.