By Finn Raben, Director General, ESOMAR

At our Qualitative conference in Paris last November, we learnt that ‘Grey is the new cool’; in an article published in the Dutch market research Associations magazine in January, Reinier Heutink (previously a director of Synovate and Ipsos) states that ‘Old is the new hip’, and indeed, puts forward quite a compelling argument.

If you consider the recent trends of ripped jeans, “stressed” furniture, ‘beaten” metalworks, household items made from re-cycled ‘other’ items, it is quite clear that an element of ‘age’ is becoming increasingly fashionable in all sectors.

Mr Heutink goes on to say that one of modern times most “clinical” manufacturers, IKEA  – world-reknowned for its simple, easy, clean lines – has recently added a recycling artist to its design team in the Netherlands, to bring a “used” feel to its next range.

If “old” is the new “new”, then what application or relevance might this have in a Market Research context?

Well, in that same week of January (just a few short weeks ago), the enquiry into the British polling “malfunction” during the last election was published. For those of you who may not be fully aware of what the issue was, most polls published prior to voting day predicted a hung parliament, or a minority coalition. In fact, the election gave the Conservatives a majority government, which no one was expecting. As a result, an enquiry was set up to try and establish why almost all polls predicted the hung parliament scenario, and almost no-one foresaw the conservative majority.

At its (admittedly over-simplified) heart, the enquiry found that the samples (and in some cases methodologies), used for these polls contained an under-representation of real or potential Conservative voters.  This has now prompted a secondary debate about why certain sources of sample – that were clearly not “fit for purpose” – were deployed.

This should not be regarded as a general criticism of online panels; on the contrary, online panels provide more cost-efficient and faster sources of sample, designed to meet ever increasing time and/or financial constraints.

There are many occasions when such modern approaches are wonderfully efficient – indeed there are many occasions in this day and age when such approaches should be used MORE often than they are!

Equally however, we must not forget that on other occasions the fundamental science behind good market research cannot always be circumvented. The core (old-fashioned, if you will), craft skills, sampling constraints, attention to detail and durability of proven research techniques are also “fit for purpose” in certain scenarios, and cannot always be emulated by newer fashions……after all, how crazy is it to buy a (new) pair of jeans that have been stone washed until they are almost ready to fall apart?

Finn Raben, Director General, ESOMAR

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