The 2001 annual Esomar worldwide qualitative research conference was held in Budapest, a city of faded elegance and gritty Eastern Bloc decrepitude, which seems only sparingly adorned with digital technology. This cityscape has a curious, time-warp ambience ­ one brave foot in, say, the late 1990¹s, and the rest still dozing fitfully in the Soviet era.

Like the city itself, the collection of papers around the theme of "The Business Value of Emotional Intelligence" proved a mixed architecture. The best of the bunch gave insight into the intellectual, creative, or strategic role of emotion in understanding and communicating with the consumer, or ­ failing this ­ offered an emotionally provocative view of the twists and turns of the marketing research process in a particular culture.

Some, regrettably, did neither.

One high point was a paper by James Parsons and Sarah Castell (Flamingo, UK) on the new focus on the role of subjective (relative) experience informing consumers¹ relationships with brands and advertising. Subjective experience ­ perceptions, evaluations, decision-making, etc. ­ dwells more or less exclusively in the emotional domain, throwing it into direct conflict with more traditional (rational) frameworks relied on traditionally by researchers for understanding consumer truth and reality.

Parsons and Castell offered up some excellent video examples of this new wave of subjectivism from pop culture (film: The Matrix/advertising: Budweiser, Guinness) that brought the argument to life. Heady philosophical stuff, this, but well thought out and imaginatively presented.

Another keeper was Viviana Codemo¹s (MAREA Marketing Research and Analysis, Italy) charting of an innovative approach for studying the child-product relationship, called "Kid's Eye". Its guiding theory proposes that characters from classic fairy tales act as archetypes in children¹s minds, expressing values that can be used to study the emotional relationships kids form with products.

Her illustrations from classic literature were set to music throughout, which involved the listener subtly yet powerfully in illustrations of various relationship traits, and the values attributed to the products involved.

I was also struck by several contributions from qualitative researchers in more distant cultures. Dipen Mehta and Daksha Desai (NFO Merac) of the UAE blended skillfully sharp humour, music and vivid visuals in their rapid-fire exposition of how recent social trends and cultural changes in the Middle East have challenged market researchers to revise their models of consumer values, marketplace behaviour, psychographic segments, and the like.

Contemporary television commercials from their home market not only illustrated their points nicely, but also provided a fascinating look into how brands speak to consumers in Middle Eastern cultures ­ to my eye, a strange and wonderful mix of East and West. Such are the "accidental" discoveries that make international meetings like this worth the price of admission!

Fascinating also was the marketing saga of a classic, international, Western brand (Benetton) on the Indian subcontinent, narrated by a multi-company team from Beneton, KidSearch, and NFO MBL (all of India). Their report brought to life (through superb colour images and music) the mind-boggling historical, social, cultural, and economic diversity of modern India. How could a brand like Benetton hope to approach this? Good stuff.

The meeting also had its share of disappointments. Like bad architects, some contributors apparently forgot their audience and erected impenetrable walls of verbiage through which little light of emotional insight shone. Others ignored the maxim that one brick of humour is worth a thousand tonnes of slab-poured academic rigor, and pummelled the audience with relentless monologue. Still others dashed madly down so many corridors of information that, at end of their allotted time, the viewer recalled little more than a blur. And, some otherwise excellent ideas simply got lost in the translation ­ if it¹s got to be in English, it really does need to be in understandable English.

In the end, the conference (like Budapest) rather generously rewarded the intrepid visitor willing to ignore some discomforts. But if I called the shots, judging of papers for next year¹s qualitative research programme in Boston would require not just submission of the blueprint (abstract or paper summary), but a three-dimensional architectural scale model of the whole edifice: sample video footage of presenter(s), media, lights sound, action ­ the "Full Monty". This investment would pay off in helping insure a future conference architecture that we could admire uniformly.