Anyone who has never made a mistake has never tried anything new". Einstein's quote demonstrates the risk inherent in new approaches. The Corsodyl insight team at Glaxo SmithKline was brave enough to see beyond the risk to the potential reward of experimenting with a new way of researching communications ideas, recommended by Julie Davey Research. The risk paid off for the brand, and has been recognised by the AQR via the 2011 Prosper Riley Smith Effectiveness award.

Challenges faced

Corsodyl, a medicated treatment mouthwash, had identified a culture of consumer complacency around gum disease. The communications campaign by Grey of TV, press and website needed to make gum disease harder to ignore.

Julie Davey Research defined the target consumer as an "ostrich" to be taken from blissful ignorance to a more productive level of concern. We identified insights through research to help transform them from ostrich to owl, so that they would become more vigilant in their oral care routines.

Our approach

The challenge for research was how to explore the ripple effect of brand messages — how people might discuss them socially, and what messages they might act on.

We recommended a jigsaw approach to explore consumer response from a variety of angles. The fieldwork pioneered "pass-it-on workshops". These operate as overlapping focus groups, with information cascading from one consumer to another. A consumer group is exposed to advertising stimulus, and then split up to engage in "paired chat zones", each with a "newbie" respondent.

We handed over the reins of the conversation to respondents, and a member of the marketing and advertising agency team observed and filmed the conversation for analysis later. The fresh respondents were then convened as a group to debate their impressions, before seeing the stimulus for themselves. A plenary session was held with the observing client and agency participants. The power of this approach was threefold:

  • It provided us with actual social conversations, rather than merely claimed effects.
  • It gave more control to consumers, liberating them to confess more about their attitudes and behaviour.
  • It brought the team closer to the consumer, by placing each within a "chat zone".

Other pieces of the methodological jigsaw that maximised the research effectiveness included:

  • A separate online element: using the Thinking Shed, to evaluate print and website material. This was a costeffective way of exploring views within a private in-home environment, and to cross-compare with group reactions.
  • Follow-up email dialogue with respondents: It explores effects on behaviour, advertising memories and social conversations. It sheds light on creative hotspots which can inform the production process.
  • A staggered fieldwork plan: a simple trick, but one which reaped rich rewards. Insights could be shared with the team during the research process. A new TV idea was created which we explored in subsequent workshops, and which proceeded to air.

Insights gained

The jigsaw approach unearthed five key insights, vital to overcoming complacency.

  • Consumers need to see the worst case scenario of gum disease — that teeth can be lost.
  • Consumers need to be seduced into the advertising — via positive aspiration, before being disrupted with the brand's message.
  • We needed to re-frame the risk of gum disease for the socially successful — to drive relevance.
  • Our bulls-eye target invests heavily in anti-ageing in other categories but underestimates the risk to their gums.
  • They mistakenly believe that bleeding gums are a sign of a job well done, not an early warning signal for gum disease.

Results achieved

The advertising developed during the research shifted the creative idea into a more personal context, focused on beauty and self-image. 80% found this message relevant in pre-testing, with involvement significantly higher than healthcare advertising norms.

Post-launch the campaign has brought in 314,000 new buyers to Corsodyl, with sales peaking at an all-time high. Visits to the brand's Gumsmart website also jumped sharply, showing a heightened desire to self-educate about the risks, and to be more owl and less ostrich.

What I have learnt from the approach

The project has taught me five lessons for the future:

  • To think differently with methodology — and trust in the courage of clients to say yes.
  • To connect with our consumers over a longer period beyond the focus group, to enrich our understanding of attitudes and behaviour.
  • To involve the whole team in research, shattering the one-way mirror when relevant.
  • To plan room to breathe within the schedule — allowing positive change to happen.
  • To look after my vocal chords better: I conducted my first ever pass-it-on workshop with a squeaky voice and a stack of Strepsils!

The reward of this project at a personal level has been the evangelism of both clients and agency members. They were integral to the research, they were empowered to develop new creative work during the research, and they saw research as an ally to creativity rather than an enemy.

Gareth Rudduck, then marketing manager on Corsodyl, said "Julie was instrumental in helping us to understand and unlock the real brand question — with a truly innovative and unique approach. We got deep insight, strong strategic guidance and an honest opinion grounded in the consumer." I will be very happy to have that carved on my research headstone at the end of my professional life. But before the end, here's to more methodological beginnings.