Freud, Mozart, Strauss, Goethe, Schwarzenegger…Vienna has certainly laid claim to its fair share of creative geniuses. So what better location for the QRCA Worldwide Conference? Against a backdrop of charming streets, relaxing cafés and elegant parks and statues, 25 AQR members joined their QRCA cousins for two days of intellectual stimulation and transformative thinking.

I found the programme thoughtful and varied, offering many gentle challenges and tweaks to the way we do things. There were too many papers for namechecks, but some engaging themes emerged — with a refreshing scarcity of conceptual quadrants and some great contributions from Team AQR:

  • Greater immersion in the consumer’s world is no longer the preserve of the quallie alone. Clients want to be taken along for the ride too — whether that means greater involvement in fieldwork, or more immersive debriefs.
  • Tighter budgets and timescales mean that projects are getting smaller and faster — but the guerrilla approach doesn’t necessarily have to mean compromising on quality.
  • Living in the moment (whether that means frenetic improvisation or Zen-like mindfulness) can help us make more meaningful connections with consumers.
  • Maybe attitudinal segmentation isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, as we are different people at different times: is occasion-based segmentation a more realistic model?
  • Semiotics is for everyone: with a little confidence we can make our own cultural interpretations of communication materials without passing the buck to consumers or experts.
  • Behavioural economics is all well and good, but let’s not fetishise it: our Freudian roots can teach us more than we had imagined. (Nonetheless, there were some fascinating insights into how behaviour becomes entrenched through ‘habit loops’ of expectation and reward.)

Minds were broadened with new thinking, and tummies enlarged with Sachertorte, strudel and spätzle. There were no radical calls to re-write the qualitative rulebook — but I rather liked that. As Freud reminds us, “the voice of the intellect is a soft one, but it does not rest until it has gained a hearing.”