Insight is perhaps the most over-used but least understood word in the communications lexicon, and that’s saying something. All too often casually tossed away as simply meaning ‘data’, ‘research’ or, worse, ‘a few things Google told me’.
More often than not, there are loads of them, so-called insights underpinning the same campaign, presumably all there out of fear of making a presentation chart look empty. But perhaps also because it’s often difficult to describe, as there’s something both concrete, but also deeply intangible about the best insights.
In preparing for a discussion with some post-grad students recently, I stumbled upon this great selection of definitions, put together by a Toronto-based strategist Umar Ghumman and collated from the great and good of marketing services.
They ranged from the head turning ‘something that may change the way you think about a problem’, the deep ‘inner truth’, the surprising ‘you smack yourself in the head when you find it’, and my personal favourite, ‘thinking in slow motion’.
It takes you a while to get there, it’s hard work, but there’s a growing sense of realisation when you know you’re onto something.
It’s an area of communications where consumer-marketing planners have led, and mostly still do. It’s still relatively rare to see the same depth of thinking and analysis at the heart of corporate campaigns, but is increasingly becoming the case, especially where consumer and corporate brands meet.
An often-quoted example is the Persil ‘Dirt is Good’ campaign. It makes you look at a problem a different way, is counter-intuitive and ultimately true. Parents want their kids to play outside. Sometimes in the dirt. If only we’d let them.
So I wasn’t quite sure what to make of Persil’s latest offering, Free the Kids, which recently told us in pretty dramatic terms that the average child spends less time outdoors every day than a prison inmate. It certainly makes you look at something in a different way. And it’s pretty uncomfortable, to be honest.
But, whilst most kids obviously have a choice whether to stay indoors or go out, it makes you stop and think. Whether it’s the lack of available urban play spaces, our kids’ (and our) reliance on technological play, or simply our anxiety that keeps them indoors, the underlying insight is our collective guilt.
And beyond selling soap powder to guilty-looking parents, here is a campaign aiming to do something about it, highlighting the shortage of decent playgrounds in some of the world’s cities and chiming with wider concerns about lack of access to the great outdoors.
The interesting part is how this links to Unilever’s broader social change agenda. What may have started as brand-led campaign about freedom and creativity has evolved into another example of a Unilever brand playing its part in underpinning the organisation’s corporate voice.
But don’t forget where this came from. From an unerring, forensic focus on the consumer, understanding what motivates them, what they care about and what their concerns are.
Whatever you feel about how it’s presented, the same consumer insight is bringing together parents, educators and child development experts in a broader, issues-led debate.
In a world where brand and corporate agendas collide, expect to see more thinking like this.