Yes, and…

Yes, it can sometimes be difficult to get consumers to tell you how they really feel about an idea.

And yes, sometimes you need to get creative in order to encourage consumers in research to loosen up, open up, and be creative in their thinking.

And yes it is true the humor is a great tool for opening our thinking, changing our perspective on concepts and life and engaging with people.

Could we use humor as a tool more often in our efforts to get consumer feedback on concepts, or to stimulate our target to really give us a window into what they’re thinking about our products and services? You bet.

I’m thinking about this because I just read about Firefly’s new program, partnering with Second City Works, to conduct focus groups with consumers in which “Improvisational actors portray scenes based on the feedback that a panel of consumers gives to brand concepts sourced from marketers.”

In a session, consumers sit in the front rows of a theater. Firefly moderators question them about a concept. Consumers offer their opinions. And then…

“A four-person Second City ensemble put on improvised skits in response to the consumer feedback. And then consumers were quizzed on their reactions to the skits. At one point the actors left the stage to individually quiz the consumers in the audience. The actors then disappeared backstage to brainstorm on skits. They reappeared a short time later and put on a quick show that had the trappings of a regular Second City improv act, including tunes by a Second City musical director…. The skits were far from finished ads. But that is not the point. Rather, the aim is to develop early-stage creative concepts based on real-time consumer feedback. The program is based on the improv philosophy of “yes, and …” in which one idea grows into another idea, and so on. The actors serve as a “living, breathing stimulus” to “break down barriers by using empathy and humor…”

Consumer Theater has got to be a huge amount of fun for consumers, and for the clients who attend – and pay for – the experience. I don’t doubt that a session can spark new thinking among the client and agency team.

But here’s the rub for me: I don’t think you need Second City improv actors to get more or better insights, or fresher thinking from consumers. Ad Age reported about the demonstration they saw,

“Most people in attendance seemed to be buying the concept. Several people remarked about how engaged the consumer panel was. “I don’t see these as a replacement for focus groups,” one man said. “Focus groups are a great way to get people to respond back to us. But here they are actually creating ideas. We gave them barely nothing and they gave us so much.”

The article, and thinking about Consumer Theater brought home to me the importance of working really hard and smartly to encourage openness and creativity – to engage consumers we talk to.

Not all facilitators and moderators are trained in improv (though some are; it’s a useful skill to have). But all of us have the ability to bring in humor, to build in “yes and” techniques, or when necessary, to partner with outsiders who have skills that can bring out the absolute best and freshest, real thinking from our consumers. You just have to recognize the importance of doing so.




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