Lily Allen deems MR ‘totally unhelpful’

RecordThough she may not have the late Steve Jobs’ clout, British singer Lily Allen is yet another celebrity who’s spoken out to publicly criticize the value – and validity – of marketing research.

According to an April 24th interview (warning: explicit language) with Popjustice’s Peter Robinson, Allen says that she was accidentally copied on an e-mail containing market research results for her work and that reading it was one of the most horrible moments of her life.

Allen goes on:

The thing is, people who take part in market research: Are they really representative of the marketplace? Probably not. I find it totally unhelpful. My mom’s a film producer and they do these market research screenings and more often than not, it’s just like school: People don’t have opinions but because they’re asked for them, they come up with something and then it becomes a statistic. It’s like, he didn’t actually think that, he was just trying to impress the bored-looking girl in row three and he thought this could be his in with her. I’ve yet to see an example of market research where it’s actually good.

Ouch! It’s possible that Allen simply didn’t like what the research yielded and if the results had skewed more in her favor, she’d be singing a different tune. It’s also possible, however, that she has a point. Does marketing research force opinions out of consumers who would otherwise be apathetic or oblivious? How much of consumer feedback is the result of grandstanding, posturing and trying to impress? Is this more likely to happen in certain industries, such as entertainment, where hipness very much matters, or health care, where doctors try to impress each other in focus groups? How about with different demographics? Are younger respondents more prone to this type of behavior?

Aside from Allen’s unfairly black-and-white assessment, does her argument hold?

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9 Responses to Lily Allen deems MR ‘totally unhelpful’

  1. Bob Ceurvorst says:

    Making a blanket statement about the value or validity of market research is ludicrous. It is an essential element in concept/product development, understanding people’s preferences, needs, experiences, brands, products, etc. in virtually every industry and geography. Every product you use was subjected to market research before it was introduced and usually frequently afterward. In three decades of experience in market research, I never encountered a situation in which we coerced opinions; we always sought the truth. Clients don’t want anything else!

  2. I was about to critique Ms. Allen’s opinion, but found some irony in creating a story that is based on a sample size of 1.

  3. Amy says:

    I think the following quote from her interview says it all:

    “I’m already famous, I don’t need to pull people in. I don’t need to make a shock or a song or a dance about everything.”

  4. Paul says:

    ‘Grandstanding’ and ‘impressing’ people with your opinions isn’t a very valid argument against MR, but biasing results based on restrictive contexts and/or questions does happen a lot. Badly written guides and surveys don’t do the industry any favors when it comes to the perception of ‘correctness of data’. I’d agree with her that a lot of MR results are just flat out a waste of time because they box respondents into the results the researcher wants to see, not the ones that best reflect the nuances of consumer behavior.

  5. Seán McNally says:

    There maybe more to Lilly Allen’s comments than we would like to admit. She is not the first to make these types of observations. Her comments come from a sample greater than n=1. Even if her comments were just hers then from a qual. perspective they are still valid. Qualitative research was never meant to be statistically generalisable (on this point her opinion is wrong). Her comments reflect a concern that information from qualitative research (generalising it as market research was wrong) is heavily based on constructed comments and group dynamics. While these two issues are not essentially a problem – constructed answers could reflect opinions that could be constructed in the Market place, and dynamics can help elicit information – researchers can often report information uncritically or at best through the lens of their objectives.

    While I insights manager in various roles for more than ten years for major national and international brands many a qual. guru had reported results without a check against supported theory or just common sense. For example in a study that included semiotics we were told red was the colour of poison and as a result could not be used in the packaging design. What they failed to explain was how we the market leader for over 50 years and our nearest competitors all used red extensively. If we were not paying around $200k for this internal study for a major repackaging we may have just passed it off as just dumb. Sadly, semiotics and qual. research in packaging was all but killed off globally due to this a similar findings from that agency and others.

  6. George Halim says:

    You know what I do agree to some extent with Ms. Allen. I know people are going to shoot at me because after 17 years of marketing research experience on both clients and agency I do tend to have a different opinion. We as researchers might not be intentionally forcing anything out of the consumer but we really need to look at our methods we use today. A respondent is asked a direct question and have to form an opinion based on our the show card in front of him. Or a respondent is sitting in a group and might feel he/she needs to justify why they are in the group by saying something. The environment where we ask the questions to respondent is not his or her regular setting a place where an opinion is formed. When a shopper is asked why he bought something is usually after the shopping has happened not during it. I think where we agree or no to what Ms. Allen says we need to improve our methodologies to be as live and as real as possible. All industries have evolved with time. How much did the MR industry evolve??? Are we keeping up with time? Do we need to innovate more?

    One last point how could MR be used to measure art? One day we are in a certain mood we like a song tomorrow we don’t so I am not sure really MR and arts are a good match.

    Just my opinion…

    Have a good day

    George

  7. TCinTheBigCity says:

    Sadly, I have to agree that Lily Allen’s comments seem to offer me both merit and insight. I have often wondered about respondent motivations (i.e., honorarium or social validation) in research as well as the staleness of qualitative methodologies to segment buyer values, mindsets and motivations. Not that I expect validation of Ms. Allen’s skepticism from entrenched professionals with ruffled feathers.

    Why do you think they named it Survey Monkey@ anyway??

  8. imNOTaRECORDINGartist says:

    Here’s a suggestion Lilly Allen, read a book and learn a thing or two about the differences between Qualitative Research and Quantitative Research. You would also learn how you should not base judgment from a sample of one.

    It’s amazing what books can do.