Ask a silly question, get a silly answer

Whatever the final results of Tuesday’s vote in the States, one thing is already sure. The pollsters got it wrong. Again. Bigly.
I don’t know much about American politics but I do know about market research, or ‘polling’. The flaws with explicit questionnaires are well known, and appear endemic and unavoidable. We keep on asking silly questions, or asking sensible questions in silly ways, and we are surprised when we get silly answers back.
And if polls and other forms of explicit surveys get things as important as politics wrong, how can we really trust them to get things as unimportant as advertising or packaging research right?
This is not a new idea in marketing. As David Ogilvy once said ‘people don’t think what they feel, don’t say what they think, and don’t do what they say.’ In fact, it’s not a new idea full stop. ‘I am a great riddle to myself’, as Augustine, the ancient African philosopher and rhetor (basically, ad man), has it. Asking people direct questions is not always the best way to get direct answers.
But rather than rehearse the problems with polling, it might be more use to look at more successful alternatives. Perhaps its better to ask about people’s feelings rather than their opinions. It seems to work for System 1. Or perhaps it’s best to observe how people do things rather than asking them to talk about why they do them, like TVision or Big Sofa. Finally, if you can’t observe people in real life, then perhaps you can re-create life for them, like the guys at Gorilla in the Room do.
And let’s not forget, you can do all these lovely things with Lumen as well.