Having recently worked at a Big Ad Agency, I recognised more than a few truths in Bruce Nussbaum's article: 'Are Big Ad Agencies So Clueless That Corporations Should Avoid Them?', in Business Week magazine last week. He says: "Mainstream ad agencies have one refrain--one message to their corporate clients--do social networking, do social networking, do social networking."
Ad agencies, he argues, are so keen to be seen as digital experts, that they simply put technology first, rather than thinking of good (digital and non-digital) ways to connect brands with consumers in meaningful ways.
Social psychologists and anthropologists, he argues, are far better placed to help uncover and understand users' un-met needs. If we just look to focus groups and "marketing research", we risk simply confirming what we already think we know about the consumer.
For a great example of uncovering un-met needs, take a look at Jane Fulton Suri's 'Thoughtless Acts'. (She works with IDEO, the design company that brought us the Palm Pilot and the flip-top toothpaste lid.) 'Thoughtless Acts' is a series of photographs and commentary showing how people react to a world that's not always quite up to scratch when it comes to meeting their needs. To remedy this problem, IDEO don't ask consumers what they do or what they want; they go out among them and watch their behaviour. It's an interesting proposition that hopefully challenges us to think in a much more rounded way about consumers.