Aurora Magazine

Promoting excellence in advertising

The Unvarnished Truth About Clean Dishes

Published in Nov-Dec 2022

Really good ideas that work come from really good research.

Hey Reader,

The story of clean dishes is a sparkly way of talking about the importance of research before conceptualising. The impact of ideas is lauded in our business, but often what makes an idea great can feel like a rogue train you are trying to steer. Does a great idea just feel great, and a better question is, is that enough? Does it solve a business problem? Does it have the potential to go on for years? All are valid questions. An easy way to evaluate how far you can take your idea is to make your research applicable from the get-go, and spend time on the human experience and the stories the research can uncover. Get earnest and real with what you hear.

Back to my favourite, clean dishes.

Yeah, clean dishes are great. You take a peek at your reflection and there is that little smirk. The grease is off, and the flash in the pan is nothing but a clear, clean drop of water. Squeaky. Sparkly. About 10 other adjectives may come to mind, and that is a good sign. A company, an ad agency and, in likelihood, a testing service, gave a lot of money for this moment of cleaner-thanclean dishes. At this moment, is embedded an insight – a dishwashing liquid that cleans even what you can’t see.

Reader, this opening is of a challenger brand which shall remain unnamed, and there is a truth finder that leads to this moment in the dishwashing story.

Research. What is it anyway? In its simplest form, is it a question you ask a consumer in a store out of sheer curiosity? Or, could it be something you ask the decision-maker at home? The strategist in your agency will likely call it behavioural science – a journey to understand how people think in every pitch and project.

Research. A simple approach to tell them what you tell them, then tell them what you tell them again.

Research gets you there the quickest when you spend time pondering and writing. Removing biases, finding the right way to pose a question and spending time finding the texture in the responses. It truly pays off to trust this process.

Here’s a quick tip. If you want to learn where your brand ranks in terms of premium, would you ask “do you think this brand is a premium one” in a survey? Take a moment to be unassuming. Don’t prime “premium” in relation to your desired answer. It creates bias and invalidates your learning. Instead, try “rank these brands in order of premiumness”. The lack of bias and thoughtfulness in the research design will lead to a much better stronger sell. The moment of insight from research, no matter the method, mostly leads to ground-breaking work; the kind of work that creates decades of refreshing work and even better profits.

Here are a few stories that led to such work through this approach to inspire you:

Truth Teller Story 1: Of Sweet Breaks
Remember the last time you were bored, overworked or busy? We all had at least one of those moments in the past week. A plain and painful moment when you cannot think of anything besides the slow passage of time. A chocolate bar brand listened to people who wanted to talk about those moments. Just listened and watched through a one-way glass mirror (read: focus groups) until the small red-wrapped chocolate bar with ridges came through – a truth-telling moment. What this means: Listen deeply. Action comes second.

Truth Teller Story 2: Of De-Nerding Tech
Where did the word nerd come from? Maybe from people who liked doing one thing a little too much? Maybe from people who preferred to study technology, while the others didn’t quite enjoy it as much? Technology, science, and the era of Web 2.0, as we live through the emergence of AI – and still thinking differently continues to be the undoing of the nerd. Notice how again, no branded identity was named but when anyone throws the words “think different” out there, you think of a fruit-shaped logo. A technology business turned into a lifestyle choice. Research, dear reader, revealed that too much of one thing didn’t create a nerd – it created room for something different. A hammer through a television screen – in a commercial on most American television screens – created one the most profitable businesses today. What this means: Comfort is an enemy of progress. When it’s time to refresh your story, go ahead and create action.

Truth Teller Story 3: Of Great Dirt
In the third story, reader, let’s go down the journey of dirt. Did that ring a bell just yet? The stories that stirred smiles and cries from being about dirt alone. The moments shared in finding and immersing in dirt. The moments of saving face and finally being free of that emotion-stirring dirt. The relationships that rekindled magic – all from dirt. Yes, I think we made it to the moment of realisation. What this means: When in doubt, go back to the source. In this case – your good old consumer.

Truth Teller Story 4: Toyota Sienna’s Swagger Wagon
You will notice a brand name here – Toyota’s Sienna isn’t a Pakistaniselling model, but offers a stellar insight that went on to make awardwinning work in the mid-2000s. Minivans have long had a bad rap for a stale status quo representing a choice of car for growing families. This wasn’t how these families (the target audience), viewed themselves. A combination of selfimage and aspiration (buzzwords often heard in client presentations) the Swagger Wagon is a repeatable idea that goes beyond just one ad (search ‘Toyota Sienna Swagger Wagon’). What this means: Find a brand role within the context of your consumers’ lives. Then make it cool.

You knew from the moment of truth which brand is telling each story, even in the stories without brand names. Research creates the power to identify those moments and get decisionmakers to rally behind them. Wellwritten, unassuming research questions and quality qualitative methods can glean that texture, such as the insightful truths in these three stories.

In a nutshell – be unassuming. Remove bias. Think of the desired answer. We should talk more if you want more of this story.

Sincerely, A Researcher Who Writes.

Sarah Fahim is a senior strategic tech researcher.