O&M turns reality TV into research tool

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With great buzz surrounding shows such as CBS' "Survivor" and "Big Brother," reality TV is one of the hottest trends on the small screen. But even before the recent hoopla, the concept was a hit for a New York ad agency as a market research tool.

Ogilvy & Mather's year-old Discovery Group sends researchers into homes with hand-held cameras to get an up-close picture of how people live various aspects of their lives. Hours of footage then are condensed into a documentarylike 30-minute video--often complete with a narrator to put the images in context--which gives marketers and agency staff the chance to see how people really communicate and interact in certain situations.


The videos may give marketers a clearer sense of how people use their products and their motivations, which can influence decisions about future strategy. Agency personnel may use the findings to craft creative messages.

The Discovery Group service has been used for a variety of Ogilvy clients in many industries. It is most widely used by Ogilvy's O&M Healthcare, which specializes in direct-to-consumer advertising. Half the healthcare unit's 12 clients have had videos made.

Besides developing strategy and creative for existing clients, the healthcare unit has used videos to prepare for new-business pitches.

Sufferers from conditions such as diabetes and migraines have distinct ways of communicating their discomfort, and an understanding of the vernacular they use can be helpful in crafting well-received marketing pitches. By the same token, marketers can benefit from the chance to see how conditions affect sufferers' daily lives, such as a diabetic's reliance on injections or a migraine sufferer's tendency to withdraw when they have an episode.


"It's incredible in healthcare how emotional people can get," said Michael Guarini, executive group director and managing director at O&M Healthcare.

The use of Discovery Group in the DTC prescription advertising arena underscores how important consumers have become in devising prescription drug marketing strategies. Physicians still must be convinced to prescribe the drugs through professional ads and other avenues, but marketers are increasingly recognizing the role of the consumer in persuading their doctors to do so. DTC ad spending surged by 40% in 1999 to $1.84 billion, according to consultancy IMS Health.


Discovery Group's end product is the 30-minute video, but it takes extensive planning to get to that point. Clients decide on the type of insight they'd like the video to provide, and O&M Healthcare locates a sample of people to film. The agency then sends a researcher into the home for filming that could last from three days up to a month. The researcher does his or her best to function as a fly on the wall. The subjects are viewed as experts and are compensated for their time.

"We don't want to interrupt the natural flow," said Emma Gilding, director of the Discovery Group and an O&M senior partner.

Within hours, the camera recording normal life usually becomes part of the landscape. Sometimes, however, the people in the homes--the sufferers, a family member or a caregiver--will turn to the camera and speak, perhaps expressing frustration.

Discovery Group does not seek to eliminate focus groups but to augment them. The methodology in focus groups, which have interviewers or facilitators, may influence the responses of the participants. Hours of Discovery Group footage could provide a more realistic view.

For pharmaceutical marketing executives, the videos may present a window into the real world, something that can be hard to come by while laboring in an office. A reconnection with a drug's goals can result. Ms. Gilding said she's seen some clients moved to tears when watching videos that show suffering. "It's the voice of the consumer back into the world where it hasn't necessarily been," Ms. Gilding said.


Though it hasn't been deployed in that way yet, the Discovery Group product could also be used to craft educational videos for physicians to demonstrate the value of certain products. O&M Healthcare, however, isn't in the medical education business. "It would be a great sensitizing device for doctors," Mr. Guarini said.

The genesis of Discovery Group came more than a year ago when the British Ms. Gilding grew eager to move to New York. (A helicopter ride around Manhattan during a visit contributed to her determination.) Trained as a behavioral researcher, she ran a similar operation back home that was used to help companies in product development, and she recognized the potential application for advertising.

Ms. Gilding scheduled meetings with Bill Gray, president of Ogilvy's New York office, and Tro Piliguian, president of O&M North America, to plug her ideas. The executives, she said, were almost instantly sold.

"They saw the value immediately," Ms. Gilding said.

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