NEW YORK: "Depth deficits" and an aversion to risk are limiting the advertising industry's "collective imagination", according to Gerald Zaltman, a leading professor at Harvard Business School.

Zaltman assessed the relationship between facts and insights in marketing research for his paper "Are You Mistaking Facts for Insights? Lighting up Advertising's Dark Continent of Imagination", published in the winter issue (Volume 54, Number 4) of the Journal of Advertising Research (JAR),

More specifically, he tapped into 19 years of results drawn from the Zaltman Metaphor Elicitation Technique (ZMET), a tool introduced in 1995 to explore how unconscious thinking drives behaviour.

Based on this data, Zaltman, the Joseph C. Wilson Professor of Business Administration, Emeritus, at Harvard Business School, argued there is "a lack of careful reflection and bold thinking with rich customer information".

More specifically, certain sub-optimal characteristics typically dominate current practice, including "the failure to go beyond customers' own surface thinking".

Other common problems include "the failure to use insights from different disciplines to understand research issues and interpret facts" and "the absence of bold, imaginative thinking about what can engage a customer's mind".

The flaws, Zaltman explained, "often reflect an organisational climate that encourages strip-mining research techniques to confirm existing ideas while discouraging approaches that help to read between the lines of customer thought and to ignite new communication ideas.

"Managers and researchers can avoid mistaking facts for insights by being more attentive to what and how they think about customer data. This will help light up advertising's dark continent of imagination."

Data sourced from Journal of Advertising Research; additional content by Warc staff