Last month I started as scientist in residence (SiR - the acronym is worth the title!) with DDB. According to the people who have done the research, this is apparently the first time an advertising agency has ever appointed a scientist to work with planners and account managers in-house. So, this is certainly as new to DDB as it is to the advertising world in general (and honestly, it is quite new to me as well). I'll be around roughly a day per week at the DDB UK office in Paddington, working with their staff in very different ways, from scientific consultancy for specific campaigns and TV ads to training workshops for their staff and clients. From the few days I have spent with DDB, I can already feel that there is a huge interest and demand for understanding how our minds work and how this understanding can be used to create more effective campaigns.
In my main job I'm still a lecturer in psychology at Goldsmiths, University of London, and like every good academic I'm usually busy with teaching, running research projects, giving talks, and writing scientific papers. I'm also a co-director of the Masters programme in Music, Mind and Brain, a very international and quite ambitious programme that covers the cognition and neuroscience of music perception. Actually, my background has mainly been in music-related research so far. I obtained my PhD in systematic musicology (= the scientific study of music including acoustics, informatics, psychology, neuroscience etc.) but subsequently I worked on a large research project in Goldsmiths' computing department before I finally became a lecturer in psychology. And as you might guess from this short vita, my interests regarding how the mind works as well as the scientific methods and techniques I use are pretty broad. How music works in advertising, e.g. as kind of a soundtrack, as an audio logo or generally in sonic branding, is naturally one questions I have a heightened interest in.
But apart from the use of music in ads there are a zillion other issues in modern advertising that make for highly interesting academic research questions, not at least the methods of pre-testing and measuring ad effectiveness that seem to have been in practice for ages and have never really been challenged.I'd like to get some of my brilliant Masters students of this year involved in that research, for example exploring implicit methods of assessing attitudes and behaviour towards ads and brands and comparing them to conventional explicit methods such as surveys and focus groups. What can we learn about what people think and do by asking them and by not asking them (but measure their behaviour)? It’s not hard to see that neuroscience and looking at brain activity is currently one of the hottest topics in advertising research and, over the next couple of months, I’m certainly going to look into whether it is worth the present hype and how it can inform advertising in practice. (You might have noticed the cautious undertone that the co-director of the Music Mind and Brain programme has carefully chosen to apply here.)
Anyway, pre-testing techniques, behavioural economics and neuro-marketing (how many buzzwords can you fit into one sentence?) are not all I’m interested in. Given my background in computing and machine learning I would love to explore how ideas (and ads) spread virally across communities and networks and how we can describe and predict emergent behaviour in social groups, be it on social networks sites or even in the real world. DDB seems to be pretty keen to explore that route which is related to the idea of ‘6° advertising’ as opposed to ‘360° advertising’ (you can probably tell by now that I’m working really hard towards getting my marketing lingo right).
Up to now I’ve talked to enthusiastic account mangers and planners working with very different brands, ranging from German cars to cat food, and everyone seems really keen to involve the new SiR in their upcoming campaign. The demand to talk to someone with a scientific perspective is huge and I will need to figure out how I can give everyone the best of my knowledge and support. (Maybe there is an internal competition, that I haven’t been told about: Who can make most use of the SiR to maximally impress their client?)
Really, I’m looking forward to the next months and I’m not sure who will learn more, the DDB staff about the scientific understanding of the human mind or me about the crazy world of advertising in general and cat food in particular.