NEW ORLEANS: The research industry's current emphasis on speed doesn't produce much in the way of engagement or meaningful answers, so a Unilever executive advocates a "playful gravity" approach that delivers greater insight.

In an ESOMAR paper – The Joy of Research: Recovering engagement through F2F methodologies and a Unilever food truck – delivered in New Orleans last month, Adelina Vaca (Head of the Anthropologic Division, De la Riva Group, Mexico) and Leticia Charraga (Senior Manager of Consumer & Market Insights, Unilever, Mexico), argued that this method was the future of face-to-face research.

"When a project is so enjoyable that the journey is an output in itself, we achieve what we call "playful gravity"; people begin to be attracted to the project naturally, be it consumers, brand teams or researchers," they said

"This gravity helps the project be easily conducted, get high quality insights, and makes it a living study that can sometimes even continue beyond its final report; mostly because it was able to assemble a small community of people that really have something to share about the topic."

For the Food Division of Unilever Mexico, seeking to understand brand positioning in regional markets, this approach involved a two-month road-trip across the country with a chef, a driver, two anthropologists and a cameraman. Ingredients were bought in local markets, cooked and offered to shoppers, shopkeepers and street food vendors.

"We provided free food-truck food in exchange for [informants'] participation in situ in informal peer groups," the authors said. "If they didn't want to participate, they just paid for their food and walked away, activating a natural research selection that left only participants that had something to say, were happy to participate and had something interesting to say."

The best of these were then recruited to complete further ethnographies in their kitchens and markets and to participate in an ongoing online community countrywide.

Video was edited and posted to a private YouTube account every week, allowing Unilever's teams to internalize knowledge in real-time so that the final workshop was then about applying information and not just receiving it.

The authors reported that they were "amazed at how engaged and willing to work our teams and even suppliers and informants were, and how accurate and compelling their insights turned out".

Data sourced from ESOMAR; additional content by Warc staff