Ep. 402 – How IPSOS Switched From In-Person to Digital Ethnography

My guest today is Oliver Sweet, Head of Ethnography, Ipsos MORI. 

Founded in 1975, Ipsos is a multinational market research and consulting firm with headquarters in Paris, France. In October 2011, Ipsos acquired Synovate, making Ipsos the world’s third-largest research agency. Currently, Ipsos has offices in over 88 countries, employing over 17,000 people.

Prior to joining Ipsos in 2007, Oliver served as a Parliamentary Researcher. 

Find Oliver Online:

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/oliver-sweet-73671018/ 

Website: https://www.ipsos.com

Find Jamin Online:

Email: jamin@happymr.instawp.xyz 

LinkedIn: www.linkedin.com/in/jaminbrazil 

Twitter: www.twitter.com/jaminbrazil  

Find Us Online: 

Twitter: www.twitter.com/happymrxp 

LinkedIn: www.linkedin.com/company/happymarketresearch 

Facebook: www.facebook.com/happymrxp 

Website: www.happymr.com 


“Clap Along” by Auditionauti: https://audionautix.com 

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JAMIN BRAZIL: Hi everyone. I’m Jamin Brazil, you’re listening to the Happy Market Research Podcast. My guest today is Oliver Sweet, Head of Ethnography at Ipsos MORI. Founded in 1975, Ipsos is a multinational market research and consultancy firm with headquarters in Paris, France. In October of 2011, Ipsos acquired Synovate, making Ipsos the world’s third largest research agency. Currently, Ipsos has offices in over 88 countries, employing over 17,000 people. Prior to joining Ipsos in 2007, Oliver served as a parliamentary researcher. Oliver, it is an honor to have you on The Happy Market Research Podcast today. Thanks for joining me.


OLIVER SWEET: Thank you very much for having me.


JAMIN BRAZIL: Like to start out with our signature question. Tell us a little bit about your parents and how they inform what you do today.


OLIVER SWEET: Yeah. I like this question, it’s a good one and it’s made me go back and have a look. So my six-year-old daughter always says, “Daddy, you were so lucky because you had two daddies.” Which I think is a kind of wonderful reframing of having – The idea of having a stepfather, which is basically how I grew up. So I got influences from my mother, my father, and then my stepfather as well. So my mom and dad were young and fun and enjoyed themselves, and then at 22 they sort of had me as a slightly happy surprise, I would put it. Before they’d finished their university courses and as ever at that age, sort of plans changed and they split ways when I was three. And I met my stepfather when I was eight, and it’s all been wonderful, happy family since. But all three of them have had a big influence on me, actually. So my mother is an artist, really. But she’s actually a psychologist, and in her spare time she does a lot of art therapy as well. So she’s really good at understanding what makes people tick, and also adding that kind of creative spark to life, making things feel a bit different. My father, on the other hand, was a math genius. He was kicked out of school six months before his A levels, which are the main exams that we take in high school here, and asked to come back just to take his exams and he got straight As. Math was just very, very easy for him. But, ultimately, he was quite rebellious, hence being expelled. And I think that, sadly, I didn’t pick up the math genius side from him. But I did sort of pick up his slightly anti-establishment approach to life and questioning what authority tells you, not quite as much as my father did. And, then, my stepfather who’s had a huge influence on my life as well, was also in computing, like my father ended up in computing, but was a self made man who believes in his own ideas and he acts upon them. And, ultimately, he’s a man who looks at the world and looks for opportunities. For instance, during this bizarre year of lockdowns and lack of travel, he’s gone out and bought a boat. And they are now cruising the river ways of the U. K. for their holidays instead. So constantly looking for the opportunity that life throws up. So that kind of idea from my mom with understanding people with a creative element, my father who is quite anti-establishment, and then my stepfather who constantly looks for opportunities. I’d say those three elements have helped me along in my career in different ways, I would say.


JAMIN BRAZIL: I really like how you draw from all three. I resonate with the rebellious. It’s something – Part of my character as well. How do you think that helps or hinders your career?


OLIVER SWEET: I think it’s told me not to accept what the kind of dominate narrative is sort of blindly, if you like. So it’s to question what authority is telling you. And, I think, that at times I should have stuck it out in certain jobs. I mean, there was an element in my life where I had about six jobs in three years, each of them in their own way, should have been quite good jobs. But, ultimately, I just didn’t really like the way the place was run or the idea that this was how my career would end up. And that kind of predetermined career path never really appealed to me, I think. So it was the constant questioning of authority, I suspect. Which I’m sure has rather annoyed bosses from time to time. But Ipsos has been very accommodating of it in the last 12 years, so obviously they’re quite happy with that approach.


JAMIN BRAZIL: Could make you a good leader as well. Let’s level set. What is ethnogr – Excuse me. What is ethnography or ethnogr – I can’t say it – research. Ethnographic. There we go.


OLIVER SWEET: It is, probably, the most annoying word to say that we have in market research. I still find myself 12 years on struggling with ethnography. I mean, why couldn’t they have come up with an easier word for us? Why couldn’t they just settle on observational research or something like that? I mean, I understand the derivation, so the derivation comes from the Latin of ethno, which is people, and graphy, which is to write about, so it is to document people. And that documentation of people, ultimately, as a practice happened most commonly in the world of anthropology. So it’s an anthropological fieldwork application to market research. And people who might – Or I have many people on my team who are anthropologist and they think about the world in a different way. But ethnography as a term is also incredibly badly used in the world of market research. It often means doing an in home interview or filming people or getting people to log their routines on an app. And all those sorts of things and more are routinely described as ethnography. And I don’t think – Really think that they are, I think that they’re just doing exactly those things. I think they’re either in home interviews or filmed interview or someone logging their routines as a diary exercise. What ethnographic research is for me is that it’s a deep understanding of a group of people to the point where we understand how the culture influences their identity, which influences their behavior and their mindset and their aspirations and, ultimately, becomes quite a foundational piece of research for most of our clients. And when you put it like that, suddenly you start to see why people want to say that they do ethnographic research, whether it’s mobile ethnography, whether it’s netnography, or all sorts of other ographies that people put on to give it some kind of slightly cool, sort of view point of the research. So it’s often put into market research proposals and into projects in order to make something sound cool, make something sound sexy. Now, I think that’s really daft because market research is neither cool nor sexy. And the one thing that we do quite well, the one thing we should really do well, is be precise. We measure things. Therefore, the way that we describe our methodology should also be precise. So I’ve had to train clients in ethnography for many years. And we take them out on courses and do sort of practical exercises. And, ultimately, we have to sort of put some definition down. And, for me, as a methodology, it should be observational or contextual in its nature. It should be participant led. And, thirdly, it should be empathetic. Those three things, I think, all of those have to be present for a decent ethnographic piece of research. And all of those are entirely embodied within the principles of anthropology and the way that you look at cultures and behaviors and rituals and routines. What takes it a little bit further is actually doing some decent analysis with it, by looking from an insider’s perspective about what’s going on, as well as taking an outsider’s perspective. So, I suspect, going back to that anti-establishment element that I’ve picked up from my dad, that that kind of helps challenge other people’s narratives because we need to say to someone, “Okay. You’ve told us that you believe that you’re healthy, that you do these kinds of things. But, actually, I just need to challenge that a little bit and come back at you and say, ‘Well, your behaviors don’t quite match up with that.'” And, then, you start to get the difference between people’s intentions and their behaviors, or the say-do gap, as a lot of people talk about it. And you start to actually get some people’s values as well. And the values part is sort of how we understand people within a culture and within a place. So there’s some kind of definitions there, but there’s an awful lot of analysis and soft skills that anthropologists and others bring that I think is very important.


JAMIN BRAZIL: Challenge for you. This is two days before Christmas, 2020. I need head space kind of rewound to this time last year, 2019. Prior to COVID, what was your view of digital ethnography?


OLIVER SWEET: Good question. Very good question. So the tiny bit of context for that is – So I run an ethnography team at Ipsos. We have about 20 odd people around the world who practice what we believe to be good quality, high quality ethnography. And we’ve always preached the benefits of face-to-face research. And we’ve always said that, yes, you can do research remotely, but I don’t really believe that’s ethnography, actually. Sorry about that. That’s fine, you can do some great research that’s not ethnography, but it’s just – Let’s be precise, and I definitely don’t really think it’s ethnographic. And we have been out and we set up a team with principles and everything. And, then, obviously, March hit and all our work got canceled, right? All our work got canceled. So we said to ourselves, “Right, we need to embark on some projects. We can either sort of send everyone out on furlough or we can actually just apply our skill set elsewhere and just see what we can do.” So we set up a very big project, actually. It was slightly scary at the time in March. We syndicated here, we got lots of people on board, and we searched out souls and we went back to the anthropological text. We went back to our friends in academia and said, “How do we do digital ethnography well?” And we had a little snicker to ourself going, “It’s not really ethnography, isn’t it?” We were slightly smug about the whole position, if I’m being honest. And I have to say the journey has changed my opinion. I think it’s important in these polarized times to recognize when you have changed your mind, and I have changed my mind about digital ethnography. I believe there is a way of doing digital ethnography well. And the premise of doing ethnography, another sort of mantra that people set – Say, is that it’s about walking a mile in someone’s shoes. And, I think, if you do digital ethnography well, you can get pretty close to that. You really can. So some of the things that we have found during this project is that, with our 30 participants around the world that have taken part in this project, so I know every – I know the names of every single one of them. I know what they’ve been going through. I can tell you their back story of all of them, to greater and lesser degree, how they’ve struggled financially or not health wise, socially, and it’s really – I really got to know these people incredibly well. So there is something about making it longitudinal that, I think, works very well for digital ethnography. We’ve also tried to make it as participant driven as possible. So we give people tasks each week to send videos in about, so show us your meal time routine, show us your bed time routines, wake up routines, whatever it might be that we’re interested at the time. But they, we keep it very lose and they show us what’s interesting to them. And the other thing we’ve tried to do is keep it as reciprocal as possible as we can. And, what I mean by that is that there is a principle of reciprocity in ethnography, whereby you give and you get. And that’s how you make friends with people. That’s how you open people up. That’s how you understand what’s going on in their lives. And, whenever I ask a participant to show us their breakfast routine or their bed time routine or meal times or whatever it is, I will show them mine. So I will take a video of myself cooking dinner for my kids, and my kids are lurking around in the background. And, so, they can see what I’m doing. I think it’s, as researchers, we need to show who we are to our participants because that’s how we build trust with people. And, otherwise, it’s just a question that sort of pops up on a board somewhere and someone goes, “Yeah, if I answer that question, I get a bit of money. And, then, I can do my tasks, and that’s how I progress.” Here, we’re showing people about our lives as well. Now, these people are quite different to – Live quite different ways, but we need to be open and honest about it all. And I think that has worked wonders. So we’re still drawing up an incomplete set of what we think digital ethnography should do and should have as part of it. But, if it’s longitudinal, if it’s participant driven, it’s still got some degree of reciprocity through sharing video back and forward, I think that you can get some very powerful insight. And the key difference, I think, between doing face-to-face ethnography and doing digital ethnography is that, in face-to-face ethnography, you get surprises. You get real surprise insight that you wouldn’t necessarily expect. So, whenever we’ve done – We’ve done work for Public Healthy, Men’s Public Health Authority in the U. K., and one of the things we want to sort of find out is why children are overweight and why parents aren’t doing anything about it. And, actually, what we’ve – We had a bunch of questions. What we found is that the parents normalized the weight gain. And, instead of trying to stop or prevent weight gain, all they did is they gave their children body confidence. So they felt – They said, “Don’t worry, you’re just big bones. You’re a great lad, don’t worry.” And they had all these mantras for giving a child body confidence, which in itself just completely masks over the problem of whether you might want to help them reduce weight. So that was a bit of a blow to them, but a completely surprising insight. When we went and did some work in Brazil on pet food, they had no idea that, actually, they were – The pet owners were looking to create really quite complicated recipes for their pets. Our client had assumed that they could come along with a very easy kind of pet food product, whether that be a premium one or a staple one, and, actually, it would make all pet owners’ lives a lot easier. Actually, pet owners in Brazil love cooking for their pets. Don’t make it easier for them, they love it. So there’s lots of those surprising things you get from face-to-face that you don’t get with digital. But the thing you get with digital is you get some of these hidden moments. So you get some honesty when people have just woken up and they’ve just had an anxiety dream and they tell you all about the dream. You get some real honesty about little moments that people have in the day that we’ve seen during the pandemic, for example, where a husband goes outside for sneaky cigarettes during the day and doesn’t tell his wife or children because this is how he’s dealing with things. And it’s these hidden moments that they would hide from us as ethnographers if we were there that we start to get to, actually. So it’s the surprise versus the hidden, I think, is the trade off between the two methodologies.


JAMIN BRAZIL: Do you think a post-COVID world means a hybrid model?


OLIVER SWEET: Exactly that. So, in my world where I used to preach that all you needed was face-to-face, I am now moving towards a hybrid model for sure. Because, I think, we – Yes. And it’s going to give us sort of the best of both. It’s also going to rely on generous timings as well, but we can plug that one later, maybe, with our clients, obviously. But, yes, I do think a hybrid model is going to help us a lot going forward. It also helps us to make things cost effective as well, which is obviously something we’re trying to do all the time. So, yeah.


JAMIN BRAZIL: On December 7th, you posted on LinkedIn – No, this is the quote or a quote that I pulled from the post, “CovidWatch-” It’s all one word. “Is the project that made us and broke us all at the same time. Between March and October, we followed 30 different households from around the world who sent us four to five films a week, that’s over 2,500 films in eight months.” End quote. Tell us about the flow of the pandemic.


OLIVER SWEET: Gosh. The flow of the pandemic is everyone’s got a journey and a story, right? As any ethnographic – Decent ethnographic project goes, it’s kind of intricately linked with life at the same time. So the project was called CovidWatch, and it started in March. But, as far as I’m concerned, the journey for me actually started on January the 1st, 2020. And on January the 1st, 2020, is my wife’s birthday, so me and the kids, we made a cake. It was a nice day. It’s January the 1st, it’s whatever. But my wife was obsessed with the news. She was absolutely obsessed with the news, that she picked up this story about coronavirus developing in Wuhan. And she’s a GP, she’s a doctor, she’s a family doctor, she’s – And she’s had a number of different jobs in a number of different places, and kind of understands public health pretty well, certainly better than me. I mean, she’s smarter than me in most aspects of life. And when it comes to this kind of thing, she’s much, much – She’s leagues ahead. And she kept on saying these things like, “This is-” I remember there one quote, “This is bad shit. This is really bad shit. And they should stop flights. They should get – If this gets out.” Sort of, “If this gets out, all these kinds of things.” And I was just like, “It’s just some random story from China, come on. Chill. It’s your birthday.” That kind of thing. And that was when it really started. And my wife was really following this story quite intently when it really wasn’t a big story at the time. That’s really where it started for me, it was on January the 1st. And, then, all the way through January and through February, my wife’s watching this. And the story slowly, slowly starts to build in February. And the world starts to watch what’s going on. But, ultimately, when I look back – And there’s a lot of retrospective sort of view points here – But when I look back, nobody really wanted to look at this because this was a China thing. And one of the things I’ve learned is that we don’t really believe what’s happening in China is real a lot of the time. It seems a bit make believe. And it certainly seemed make believe when they started talking about this back then. And it felt like something that could only happen in China. I mean, there are things going on in China that we just don’t really register. I mean, they’ve mastered self-driving cars and taxis. There’s one city in China that has self-driving taxis. They’re the most technologically advanced nation on earth and we don’t really seem to recognize outside of China. We didn’t really recognize what was happening in China back then. And we’ve not really followed how they’ve dealt with the pandemic either. So that was kind of one of my retrospective moments of February. And, then, in March, my wife’s still freaking out about this, but we’ve got this wonderful little moment in the first weekend of March to sneak away from our two young children for a weekend and go skiing in France. And we debated long and hard and about whether this was a good thing or not. And we went for a long weekend. We took precautions. In early March, we were the only people wearing a mask on a flight. Yeah, big flight, 400 people over to Geneva. And we were the only people where masks. Everyone’s looking at us, as though we’re completely weird. And, to be honest, I felt a bit weird doing it, but my wife was just gung ho that we needed to wear protection. This is what you do. And, then, we came back from skiing and we immediately fell sick with COVID, so that was a bit of an issue. So, clearly, we got it in the ski resort, which is where a lot of people in Europe got it at the same time. But the news is always behind the virus and we were one of the first people in that first, very first wave. And, then, at the same time, while I’m sick, I came back. And, professionally, at work, everything was canceled. All our face-to-face research was canceled overnight and millions vanished. We were facing furlough. And we kind of decided what we should be doing then, and that we had a moment, sort of where we sat down and discussed as we sort of saw everything canceled. And our CEO was wandering around the building, Ben Page, and he’s sort of looking a bit ponderous, which is unlike him. And he’s sort of, all right. He sort of came up to us and said, “I don’t really know how this is going to pan out. There’s part of me that thinks that it’ll all sort of blow over. Another part of me that thinks that this is going to be twice as worse than the – As the 2007 crash.” And we all kind of looked at him. And we all kind of knew on his face which one he thought, and he knew it was going to be worse than the 2007 crash. He was convinced that this was going to be – It could be a disaster. But, back then in March, we weren’t really sure. So we opportunistically started a big piece of research, six markets, digital ethnography in 30 households. Every single household sent us five films every week. We gave them some tasks, we – They were allowed to send us things that they wanted to send. But, basically, we got these 30 families to just bombard us with information and with video. And we – It was a slight hybrid approach where we did video interviews with them as well, but most of the data that came to us was them sending us films in. And we would watch through these films. We would analyze what was going on. We would go back to our participants, ask them extra questions. They’d send us more videos. And it became this sort of back and forth quite quickly. And, then, we were writing reports every single week because, back in March, the world was changing so fast. So we felt that we had to get a report out every week. We syndicated the research, never done that before. That was a first for us entirely, certainly in ethnography. And we got five clients on board at any one time, that was about as much as we could handle. And people like McDonald’s and GSK stuck with us throughout the whole period, so we were constantly feeding ideas to them about what’s going on every single week. And this thing, this project, was the project that sort of made us and broke us because, at this point, all our research had been canceled and it’d all been replaced by this one big project, which was watching the world change. But we were the participants in that world as well. So it felt like the only piece of research that could possibly be done right now was researching the changing nature of COVID and seeing how consumer behavior was changing and seeing how life was going to change around the world. It was just fundamentally really exciting to what. At the first stages, we kept on talking about humanity. And it was, in the first stage of the pandemic, we all felt that we understood what humanity was again. It’s like we had just been – It was just like it was an enormous shock to the system. Some of the first pictures that we saw, certainly, that were closer to us than China, were there in Italy. And we saw coffins being loaded into army trucks. We saw people going into hospital and never coming out again, and the families never being able to go and say goodbye. This looks like a really shocking scenario that was unfolding, army trucks were taking people away. There were enormous graves being dug, in the instance that there would be even more deaths than they were. It was shocking. So, from an evolutionary perspective, we suddenly were huddling together for safety. We understood what humanity meant. We respected all fellow humans. And the outpouring of love, clapping for careers in the U. K. or people were up in their balconies in Europe banging pans and singing songs, that devastation that we’re seeing going on brought us all together. And we could feel it on a team level, but we also could see it in all our participants around the world. We saw – We had a nurse as one of our participants in the U. S. who was telling us about what was going on in the hospitals, how she was having to hold people’s hands as someone went into the hospital, not knowing – She’d hold the partner’s hands as someone went in, so she wouldn’t know whether they would come back or not. She was feeling someone that – Some random person’s pain enormously. We had people lose jobs. We had people who were freelance and on variable incomes suddenly have no income at all. We had so many stories coming out that sort of reinforced this idea of humanity. And, at the same time, we also had this sort of wonderful outburst of creativity. At home, we suddenly – My wife has suddenly bought a sourdough starter and we were making bread. We don’t make bread. We’re not bakers, but suddenly we were like, “Well, we’re at home now, let’s bake some bread.” And we saw this sort of mass creativity bursting out amongst our participants. So we had our Italian participants making pasta for the first time ever. And we had our Russian doctor, he’s an urologist, was – Had got out his accordion which he hadn’t played in 15 years. And his family were distraught because he was sort of relearning to play the accordion, which is not beautiful when you don’t know how to play it. But they were tolerating him. That was the first stage of the pandemic, which was – And first stage of our insight on the project, really. And that’s the part that sort of made us. And, then, there were two other parts that sort of followed quickly after, and the second part, actually after the humanity and the bonding, we saw this big element of division creep in quite quickly. We saw people fleeing the cities in Moscow and St. Petersburg, they all fled to their ditches. In New York, as you may well be aware, people ran away upstate. And that actually left New York as a place that felt quite dangerous and, actually, back in April we wrote a report that showed that the black communities in New York were really feeling left behind by everything that was going on. They didn’t have the money to leave New York. The health services weren’t engaging with them as a community. They were living in overcrowded scenarios and social housing, which meant that it was more likely to spread, they were on the front line. And there was this sort of bottled up rage coming up through the black community in New York and other places, as well outside of New York, but our participants were there. And we put that into our report in April saying, “This is an issue. Something’s going to boil over here. And I think that, at some point, we need to address social housing, we need to address some of the inequality.” Now, we kind of missed how it would pop up, but then on the May 25th, when George Floyd was murdered and the rise of Black Lives Matter thereafter, that was no surprise at all because what had happened is a community that had been on the wrong end of inequality for some time weren’t able to come together. And, then, suddenly, this enormous injustice happened to someone within their community. It was just a boiling point and it exploded. Now, I’ll never really forget the quote, I slightly paraphrase, but it, the quote from one of our participant who went out to protest immediately, and he said, “We’re not thinking we can resolve anything. You want to know what we’re thinking? We’re upset. Let’s come together.” That’s what they felt like when they went out in the streets to protest because this needed to be talked about, and they had been split apart through social distancing and lockdown from their compatriots who kind of kept them sane and helped them through it all. So that division sort of started to come out quite quickly, and it started to come out in other countries as well through white collar workers who had white collar quarantine, people like me, I’ve been able to do my job at home, versus people who have to go out and face it on the front line. So that division quickly came into the insight and into the project. And it fed this kind of identity politics that then rose up through mask usage, through your style of mask, through whether you’re happy to go out, whether you want to shield, whether you start calling other people out as well. So that division element then led into the third and final part of this sort of story, if you like, is it, which was the erosion of trust. And the erosion of trust sort of happened all over the place. People lost trust in governments. And I didn’t think it was easy for governments to make some of these decisions. You had to make really quick, informed decisions that were good. And, if you blinked, and suddenly you’re in trouble. So a lot of governments did blink. A lot of businesses missed what was going on to – Certainly with their workers, certainly with their response to inequality. And, then, on individuals as well, people started to lose trust in their sort of communities, in other people because they felt that other people were acting dangerously or taking too seriously. So friendships were starting to wear because people didn’t trust them to follow the rules or didn’t believe that the rules were right. So, yeah, this erosion of trust sort of went all over the place. That’s where we sort of ended up in a bit of a sad place, if I’m being honest. And that was around – That was around July time that that sort of curve, if you like.


JAMIN BRAZIL: I’m curious, given the fact this was done in so many different companies, how did the U. S. election play into it?


OLIVER SWEET: Well, very interesting. One of the markets was the U. S. And we were very careful at the beginning to recruit both Republican and Democrat participants. And I’m not a great fan of quantitative data, it tends not to tell a story. It tends to be, I don’t know. I mean, when done well, it is very good, but slightly provocatively, I never find it super interesting. But the data that was coming out on every single issue in the U. S. by voter intention was completely polar opposite and stark. So some of the things like, “I believe that we should reopen the economy and relax social distancing.” You would have – A statement like that, you would have something in the region of the mid-80s for Republican voters versus the mid-teens for Democrat voters. It just seemed to completely and utterly polarize the U. S. even more so than before. And, amongst our participants as well, you had – Amongst the response to Black Lives Matter, there was lots of stories going around about how this was completely blown out of control, this was not a big thing at all, lots of people die, whether they’re black or white. Versus, this is the black community under threat forever more. So it was incredibly polarized in the U. S. And in the lead up to it, we started to look at ideas of trust. And, ultimately, we couldn’t – We couldn’t pick the election from a qualitative sample, but it did feel like it was going to be close, that’s all I would say, is because there was doubt. And I think what happened quite successfully on the Republican side is that they seeded doubt amongst people that it could have happened any other way, that lockdown would have made a difference, that there was any other response to it, basically. And that idea of doubt really sort of crept into people’s minds, I think, which sort of made it a slightly closer race to some degree. One of the things that happened is – So, within our story, through it all, and we could see the election coming, actually, as well, is that in August, as participants in this research and everything like that, we were just exhausted. We were producing reports every single week, and the world had slowed down. Our participants were sending us tons of videos every week, and there’s only so many new things we could ask them to send us. So we said, “Let’s have a pause in August. Let’s chill out and sort of just figure out what’s happened so far. Have a little look down the retrospectoscope or something like that.” And what we did is we went back through all of our findings, all of our footage, and we built our first ever documentary, a proper documentary is 24 minutes long. It’s got expert speakers in there that we’ve pulled out from different industries from politics, from branding, from strategy in other places. And they give us their view point on what they think is most interesting that’s happened. We cut in our participant footage, and interestingly, I think one of the – This is our second sort of huge insight that I will take away forever more, I think, is that, ultimately, we were blinded by what happened. And, when I say we were blind sided, I sort of mean it in a slightly psychological, technical term of, we all engaged in willful ignorance. We knew what was happening in Wuhan in January. And we knew how it was developing in February. And we knew exactly what was happening in March and April, and it was all very well documented. But all along the way, governments, businesses, and individuals didn’t like the decisions that they had to make. So they decided not to make any decision. So willful blindness is a situation where a person avoids making an undesirable decision by intentionally keeping themselves unaware of the facts. And I think we deliberately didn’t inform ourselves about what was going on. And we deliberately made some very short-term decisions because we simply rejected what was going on. So we othered China. We made it a very strange place. We didn’t like to believe that social distancing was going to happen forever more. We didn’t like to believe that we had to protect our workforces, all of those things, which has meant that the whole world has been on the back foot the whole way through it. That sort of idea of willful blindness and willful ignorance has really followed us, actually, throughout. And that’s one of the frameworks that I would sort of think about more closely when thinking about next year, for example, and what that might look like.


JAMIN BRAZIL: Last question. What is your personal motto?


OLIVER SWEET: I have a personal motto and a professional motto. Because my personal motto, you shouldn’t really use in research, but I think it’s true. And that’s never let the truth get in the way of a good story, which I think is a great motto to have, but you shouldn’t have that as a researcher, right? So somewhere in between the two.




OLIVER SWEET: The truth matters. The truth matters as a researcher, but a good story also matters a lot. 


JAMIN BRAZIL: My guest today has been Oliver Sweet, Head of Ethnography at Ipsos MORI. Oliver, thank you for joining me on The Happy Market Research Podcast today.


OLIVER SWEET: Thank you very much. It’s been a pleasure.


JAMIN BRAZIL: Everyone else, if there’s an episode you should screen capture and share on social media, I hope it’s this one. I have learned a lot. And I will say, as we go into 2021, the thing that stands out to me is that we have such a need to maintain our humanity as we have gone through and continue to go through state of crisis. So it’s my hope, our hope, that you all have a wonderful and safe 2021.