Thursday, 22 October 2009

Synovate in Sok Kwu Wan

I've had my problems with Synovate in Asia. The first time I commissioned them (actually it was Asia Market Research who they bought out during the project we worked together on)  to do qualitative research followed by U&A studies for the Volkswagen brand. 

The groups were a disaster. Poorly turned out, we were actually down to two respondents in one final group in which I quickly realised that the two female respondents had different models of the VW Passat. One old and one new. This is an unmitigated catastrophe for a neutral research setting in deeply hierarchical Thailand where animistic Buddhist tradition teaches that people have better lives (such as owning a new car model and not the old car one) because they were better people in their last lives. 

In any case mistakes happen but I had no option other than to recommission the research. Unhappy client, unhappy agency, grumpy researchers.

On the upside, a lot of those learnings contributed to my belief that there is a better way to do meaningful research and which I have written about more fully over here. However I was sorely reminded of the research mindset (or the type of people that research companies frequently hire (often creative wannabes without a creative flair) when I stood in for Rob at the emerging markets presentation last year where I talked about the social communication mobility opportunities for low income customers. One speaker from Synovate stood at the podium as if she was delivering a lecture and reeled out a papyrus dry presentation that reminded me of every reason why square duffers should be kept at  strict arms length from the creative industries.

Even in dull data there is a story to be told which can be brought to life. If I recall correctly the presentation by Mindshare was much more engaging and I discovered killer facts such as many young Thai people  in upcountry (rural) Thailand often buy magazines more for display value than for reading. Something I never knew before and I have more than a cursory understanding of the culture as I speak reasonably fluent Thai (along with a smattering of Khmer, Laos and Burmese) and have traveled extensively throughout the kingdom. Anyway, isn't this topic of magazine display much like a whole generation of iPod fans who don't even really like music yet love to have the badges of modernity with white ear buds and so forth on display?

But I've had reason to think there is hope for Synovate recently. A few weeks back I saw something really clever that I really really like from them. I was cycling around the island I live on and stumbled on the fishing village of Sok Kwu Wan pictured above from afar. 

In one of the outdoor restaurants there was a poster which blew me away. Context is everything and you need to picture this quaint little fishing village with lots of Chinese day visitors and the occasional Caucasian including me milling about to appreciate a great example of connection planning. We're not talking hyper commercial setting and yet I felt it was one of the best ads I've seen in ages. Now we can quibble about the message style, but I think it's brilliant. Imagine if you will. I've just taken a cycle trip to God knows where (I"m still exploring the island) on the southern and less populated part, and out of nowhere I stumble across a research company that I am very familiar with. At first I was confused. Did they have a satellite office in nowheresville?

The copy reads.

Brilliant isn't it? A two bit village on a largely ignored island and I come across some copy which applauds not only people like me who really can't help but sniff around the corners of the planet or the internet but also applauds the sort of clients who prefer to take an unusual boat trip or ferry to somewhere isolated for famous seafood and setting. It's like climbing mount Everest and finding a flag at the top with "Synovate woz 'ere but we respect your mountain climing skillz"

Just so you know, the only way to get here really is mountainous bike riding with gorgeous scenes such as this.

Descending the steep paths at speeds which I intend to film they're so scary and difficult to describe and then finally enter quaint fishing villages peppered with boats and restaurants or take a ferry from Central or Aberdeen on Hong Kong main Island.

I was impressed and even though I still think the research industry is largely conning the advertising industries clients by selling safety management and not risk management (I've written about it extensively and commented on it recently over at a Simon Kendrick's 'Curiously Persistent' blog here). 

Simon is a researcher who I do have respect for as he's not frightened to concur with what is self evident to a lot of people who are desperate not to drop the ball during their 18 month tenure of a marketing position. I don't mind that this is the modus operandi of most marketing clients but please don't try and talk up the creativity game when we all know it's not creative to knock out 95% of the advertising vying for our attention during the ad break. And most importantly because wanna be creative stiffs annoy me, keep the research people from whittling away a reasonably idea down to a bland idea with squares who should be actuaries or accountants. Anyway good start Synovate. What's your next move?

Update: I see Synovate Hong Kong were voted best market research agency by the industry.