I’m at the ARF conference in New York - it’s an interesting experience: I’ve never been to a US conf before and my first impression is that it’s more earnest and salesy than the UK equivalent would be - and that more is probably getting done. This may be because the boozing and bitching is happening off my radar, of course. I’m speaking tomorrow about what happens when you think of research (and data) as a social object: I’ll type my talk up and put it up here or on FT tomorrow.
The difference in tone doesn’t mean there’s not plenty of valuable content, of course. I’ve only really been checking out the fringe talks in the “expo” and even there I’ve seen some good stuff - and the worst presentation I’ve ever seen in my life, which may get a separate post - but even that was gobsmackingly entertaining. (And atypical of a smart and well-conceived conference too!).
I’ve been able to follow the more quotable soundbites via the #rethink2009 tag on Twitter, though. One theme that’s emerging is the apparent need to change research and marketing language. Not in the “no more ‘blue sky thinking’ sense” (there’s been plenty of THAT) - but along the lines of:
- Don’t call them “respondents” call them “participants”
- Don’t call them “consumers” call them “makers”
- Don’t call them “advertisers” call them - actually I’m not sure what you’re meant to call the entities formerly known as advertisers.
Anyway, I’m not wholly opposed to this kind of thinking - I tend to use participants not respondents, for instance - but in general I think it’s a little cosmetic. I’m aware of the identity politics arguments that language precedes behavioural change but I’m also aware that language can cover lack of change, or enhance the mere appearance of it. I’d make three general points:
1. We call these people respondents and consumers because that’s how our clients ultimately tend to think of them. Perhaps we should set a good example, I grant you.
2. Respondents and consumers are actually quite kind words for how the research and ad industries seem to treat its raw materials and objects of study. You get the feeling “cattle” or “specimens” would be nearer the mark sometimes. This is as true of the high frontier of ‘research 2.0’ as it was for the bad old “1.0” days.
3. I think the principle of changing the language is a sound one but we should only do it when we’re creating such interesting, engaging and smooth research that words like “respondent” actually start sounding ridiculous.