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Doubts about qualitative research in its traditional forms continue to gather pace. Here, in a cutely executed piece Coca Cola take a swipe at traditional processes – among them qualitative research. If you look more closely though, it is a particular form of qual that they criticise, namely “qualitative testing of scripts, an increasingly outmoded and irrelevant tool.”

Some colleagues have reacted nervously to this, perhaps wondering if it’s another brick in the growing wall of doubt about the usefulness and validity of our practices.

However, if you carry on, a few seconds later, you’ll hear enthusiastic avocation of a qualitative technique that can be used to ‘expand the creative potential’ in idea development. This turns out to be collaborative workshops with consumers, a qualitative experience if ever there was one, and is based in Coke’s idea that ‘consumers produce more brand stories than we (Coca Cola) do, so let’s move towards genuine consumer collaboration.’

This is co-creation if ever I heard it, and whether you carry it out online or via workshops is a choice. There are distinct advantages and drawbacks to both routes. In my recent paper, I define qualitative research as the study of subjective experience, it is not – and never has been in my view – a reliable method for establishing likes and dislikes or eliciting opinions about material that consumers have no stake in. This kind of script testing work arose in the first place as big organisations back in the 80’s and 90’s established their own marketing departments and needed a handy tool to hold their ad agencies in check and provide fuel and ammunition for discussing agency recommendations with the consumer’s voice included. As I tell in the paper, this quickly became an industry standard practice and for many years many quallies lived off it, myself included. But we have found out since that it is of questionable validity and many of us have changed our methods. Unfortunately, many have not!

We started co-creating in 1991 to resolve just this methodological issue. Glad to see Coca Cola catching up at last!