Yet another scientific study has been repudiated. Research that demonstrated how to get school kids to choose apples instead of cookies by branding the fruit has been renounced by the Journal of the American Medical Association. This comes long after the Cornell University study concluded that branding can be used to promote healthier eating. Publication of this work resulted in positive publicity for the authors, which translated into personal appearances and book sales. Aaron Carroll, author of The Bad Food Bible, says the study was deeply flawed because research isn’t as simple as most people think. Unless all the important issues are identified and addressed in advance, the work may be defective, as was this study.
It reminded us of an investigation we did for Coconut Grove.
This crazy-quilt area on Biscayne Bay was Miami’s first art district. It was both bohemian and luxe; part Jimmy Buffett and part Miami Vice. Coconut Grove had ultra high-end hotels and boutiques, all kinds of bars and restaurants, a lively street scene with pushcart vendors and street performers, and a very active nightlife. We knew we could not capture all experiences and points of view with a typical approach. To make sure every group was adequately represented, we held on-street interviews in the mornings, afternoons, evenings, late nights, and into the wee hours, seven days a week at dozens of different locations. We found art patrons had one image of Coconut Grove and nightclubbers had another, as did shoppers, restaurant goers, bar hoppers, and wandering tourists. Each had a perspective that differed from the others.
As you might imagine, study sponsors had their own ideas of what Coconut Grove should be. Those businesses catering to the wealthy wanted to see the riffraff expelled, and those which catered to regular folks wanted to see the snobs banished to Bal Harbour. Our challenge was to find a way to reconcile their conflict.
We discovered the intersection of many different cultures was hugely appealing to every group.
Each needed the others to contribute to the gestalt that made The Grove attractive to so many different types.
Too little research bothers to be as thorough as this.
If we had not conducted the investigation across days and dayparts and sites as we did, we would not have compiled enough evidence to find the glue that held everything together. When findings from rigorous, juried, scientific research are again and again found to be untrue, we can be certain that consumer research will be far less conscientious, and far more imperfect.
We can also be assured that because proprietary research methods and samples are hidden to outsiders, no one ever knows.