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"For homework tonight, make a collage that describes you. You'll need scissors, paste, paper and some magazines. Be creative."

Although it sounds like an abstract elementary school project, this homework is being assigned to focus group participants by D'Arcy Masius Benton & Bowles, Bloomfield Hills, Mich.

DMB&B is using "collage research" to help better the qualitative data obtained in focus groups. Also, the illustrative nature of the research helps the agency's creative team develop strong visual concepts for clients' ad campaigns.

"In giving the participants homework, they are far better prepared to discuss what they think and how they feel," said Patrick McCarthy, senior VP-director of communications and technology systems.

The advantage of the collage research is that it leaves the focus groups less inhibited and more willing to talk about feelings and lifestyle practices.

The collage "gives participants a vehicle to talk through," said Julie Abel, VP-group research supervisor. "Methodologically, collage research works better in getting richer, deeper information."

Clients like General Motors Corp.'s Cadillac and Pontiac divisions, the GM credit card, and Dow Chemical Co. have used the collage research.

This year's Cadillac campaign used qualitative data found through collage research to create spots for the Eldorado, Seville STS and Fleetwood.

Participants in the Cadillac focus groups were asked to make collages that described themselves as well as their relationships with their vehicles.

"Because of the projective nature of the collage, we found with products like cars there are a lot of emotions that go into these purchases," Ms. Abel said.

In the Eldorado focus group, participants used vacations and things away from the office in the collages to express their lifestyles. DMB&B's creative team took these messages to create this year's Eldorado campaign.

In one 30-second spot, an uncivilized man is pictured in an open desert as the voice-over says, "He has no clients, no conferences, no appointments, no schedules. For a contemporary man, that kind of freedom is found in a different form-Eldorado."

"This campaign was quite different for us to do," said John Klinger, senior VP-deputy executive creative director. "We don't talk a lot about the details of the car. We are just trying to talk about the emotional side."

In the past, the Eldorado has been positioned as a personal luxury coupe with the campaign highlighting vehicle features.

For the Seville STS, focus group participants were very neat in their collage work, emphasizing things like personal health and exercise. These consumers are more discriminating in their life-style choices.

So the creative team made a :30 that featured Olympic gold medalist Edwin Moses and other high achievers with the spot ending, "The great performers are always creating a higher standard."

"That was speaking to people who tend to be far more particular about their purchases and beliefs about themselves," Mr. Klinger said.

The collage research has been useful in creating more specific spots for clients like Cadillac.

"Creative people tend to embrace this research much more readily than just a sheet of paper with numbers," Mr. Klinger said.

Leah Rickard coordinates Research News.

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