Roy of the Researchers


The other day I got a friend request that was a real blast from the past. From one of the legends of this business.

The majority of my friend requests come from people I’ve never met, I don’t know if this is normal or what it says about me.

Maybe, that I should get out more.

Anyway, this one came from a guy called Roy Langmaid, who used to be the enfant terrible and bete noire of the research industry.

Maybe he was a bete terrible.

I think we may have met briefly, but I was always being told about Roy; he was one of those guys who people told other people about.

The idea he had that seemed to cause the most ructions was when he insisted on putting his research groups into a hypnotic trance.

Because he believed that was the only way to get the truth out of them.

I know what he means – and anybody who’s sat through a couple of research groups knows what he means.

No way do you get helpful or honest responses from people given a small sum of money to sit in a living room and discuss some marketing.

The respondents don’t care about the problem, they’re not trained in how to judge ideas, they don’t even want to be there.

How can they help ?

They’re there for one reason only – because they’ve decided that they’re willing to give up their evening for circa £35 and some crisps.

All they’re going to do is take any ideas you show them, and try to put them back into a recognisable framework of conventional advertising in that sector. They think they’re being helpful but all they do is knock any interesting edges off them.

So you have to find ways round that.

And Roy’s idea was to hypnotise the f*ckers.

I think he got into legal trouble with it, not totally surprisingly.

I don’t know if research is as powerful now as it used to be – agencies that grew up in the digital world don’t use it so much.

And the whole approval process of working with clients is different now. It used to be that you had the agency pushing for weird work on one side, the client wanting something safe on the other, and research sat in the middle and killed off anything interesting. Now it seems to me that the general approval process is perfectly capable of killing anything interesting by itself – it’s the “committee” problem whereby a group of people on both sides are encouraged to voice their concerns and express what might be wrong with the idea.

You’re not ever going to get anything creatively worthwhile out of that.

But I think there is a useful way to employ research – it just takes great sensitivity and a desire to get outstanding work, (not just “ok work”), through.

It means wanting to produce outstanding work not “safe” work. To look for what stands out and cherish that, not destroy it.

It means recruiting opinion formers – strange that we don’t do that, did we learn nothing from “The Tipping Point “ ?

And, incidentally,  there’s a way to use hypnosis too.

At HHCL we once put the entire Pot Noodle team (client and agency) into a trance to take them back to being 15 years old.

I’m not kidding, it was fantastic. Put us all right inside the head of our key consumers.

Which is the most useful place a marketer can be.

And it was also quite a laugh.

You forget how desperate for sex you are at 15.

Well, if you’re lucky you forget.

And finally apropos of nothing – a brilliant and funny film from a team at the School of Communications Arts, entered for Future Lions at Cannes, where the brief is to come up with an idea you couldn’t do before.

These guys are really pushing the boundaries, and it’s laugh-out-loud disturbing.

  • Chris Worsley

    I remember engaging a qualatitive research company to hold small seminars and ask people what they thought of David Bowie / which period Bowie look did they like most / which period music did they like best etc. This was done as part of the set up for a new Bowie album. Some of the answers were interesting (you would be surprised how many people found him ‘scary’) but the exercise was ultimately pointless bar one vital thing. Bowie was hardly likely to dress or record in a manner he had previously to try and achieve a Number 1 album for the first time in 15 years.
    The one vital thing? We could tell the International Division we had done some qualatitive research, here are the results (and then get on with the plan already formulated). They were happy, we were happy and Bowie was happy because he got the number one spot. Job done, no doubt thanks to the research.

  • Roy Langmaid

    Hi there Steve, Roy Langmaid here. Thanks for posting your memories…we did actually meet a few times, I did a piece of work supporting some of your wilder ideas via someone called Andy Grey who was working as a planner at HHCL as it then was. I saw Rupert H the other day – did some stuff with him when he was at ITV.
    Just for the record, the hypnosis thing was an experiment to prove the existence of unconscious recall of TV advertising – done under voluntary conditions by a qualified hypnotherapist. Not me! As you suggest it caused something of an uproar. Agree with many of your points about the uselessness of focus groups on much creative – and their dreadful conformity & reductiveness. My thoughts on this are at I’ve added your link to the site. I think more research people need to know what creative people think! Good to hear from you after all this time (20 years?)

  • Ian Leslie

    Hey, I forgot you once worked at HHCL. You should mention that more often :-)

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