Another sanctimonious rave

The national reps for ESOMAR recently were asked to outline some of the challenges facing market research in our part of the world. Fortunately, there was a word limit so here are mine (both of which slosh around in the Threats and Weaknesses SWOT buckets I’m afraid).


1… Inertia in adjusting to the higher expectations of clients who are still clamouring for creative solutions to their marketing problems rather than the typical output from “command and control” type surveys. We all claim to be delivering “insight” (the most hackneyed word in the researcher’s lexicon) but most don’t do this regularly enough. The vast majority of researchers don’t make it into the boardroom because our work doesn’t warrant it. No wonder clients are going outside ESOMAR and MRS membership lists for their answers and ideas. 2… A decline in standards in two key areas: (a)  Sampling. This is not a criticism of online panels – at least we understand and accept the limitations here. There has been a gradual decline in sampling standards offline as well. The vast majority of surveys nowadays cannot have margin of error calculations done because they are not representative; most are convenience samples and response rates are too low. It’s simply a quality issue – garbage in, garbage out. (b) Reporting. PowerPoint is the villain in research as it is in the military where it is referred to as “hypnotising chickens”. It gives the illusion of understanding. As Gen. James N. Mattis of the US Marine Corps said recently “PowerPoint makes us stupid”. Most researchers fall back on it because it’s the quickest and easiest way to present. It encourages superficial analysis as it obviates the need for a clear narrative; clarity and narration require analysis, synthesis and imagination. But the chickens are waking up. Love these new infographics and data visualisation techniques. For a convenient update on these catch the next #NewMR  webinar  on 28 June 2013 to sharpen up your presentations. Go to banner_mail_600-1And a round of applause Ray Poynter and Sue York of The Future Place who do this for virtually nothing except the warm glow of helping the research community.


More Singapore Nostalgia

I fell in love with Singapore on my first “overseas” posting when I was a young researcher working for Chong Lee Sah at Frank Small & Associates in 1978. Shortly after arriving I had the good fortune to meet the affable Ronni Pinsler who introduced wide-eyed arrivistes to the joys of Chinatown temples.

Ronni posing with Opera star

Singapore was just starting to boom and the mantra was modernity. Land was being reclaimed, high rise buildings were planted and much of Chinatown was being demolished. Son of Romanian Jewish parents who moved to Singapore, Ronni Pinsler was a legend then as a young photographer who presciently began archiving Singapore’s heritage which he knew was fast disappearing. He captured Singapore life generally but was an expert in Chinese opera and Taoist rituals.

His photographs and films of old Singapore bring a tear to all of us who had a pleasure of living here almost four decades ago. In 2010, Ronni was honoured by the National Archives of Singapore (NAS) for entrusting 15,000 images (shot on Kodachrome of course) to NAS on permanent loan as well as 30 films. Visit <; to see some of these exceptional photographs.

To hitch an early morning ride on a lorry to North Boat Quay in 1981 go to <;

This was posted by Michael Rogge and the next bit is Michael’s introduction “Ronni Pinsler filmed Singapore when it awakens and its hard working people get out of their beds for their daily tasks. In this case it is the well-known Goh Seng Lai firm employees that start constructing a platform at North Boat Quay for a forthcoming celebration. The lorry’s journey starts at Duxton Hill where the restaurant Broth is, turns right to Duxton Road where there’s an open air carpark on the right & a Chinese hostess/KTV bar on the left. It continues down Duxton where there are tons of pubs, a 7-11 on the left & Berjaya Hotel on the right before exiting Duxton at its intersection with Craig Road where you can see the bottom of a block of flats where Toof dental clinic is now.”

Boat Quay 1981

For more nostalgia take a trip to Remember Singapore. A superb blog…<;

What happened to all the grumpy shopkeepers?

I stumbled upon this article written by Ben Slater, Singapore based writer, cineaste and and lecturer at the School of Art, Media and Design at Nanyang Techological University and have taken the liberty of reprinting, I mean uploading it.

Ben pays tribute to Albert Odell known to most as a video store legend in Singapore who passed away almost ten years ago. In this desert of unthinking, unremarkably polite customer service and loyalty programmes, Mr Odell (to his close friends) was an oasis of curmudgeonly, recalcitrant retailing. None of your Starbuckian fake authenticity here. D & O Film and Videos Pte Ltd was as real as a second hand bookshop – another almost extinct retail species in Singapore.

Mr Odell did not rent his videos to just anyone. Many optimistic potential clients were shown the door as soon as they had crossed the ding dong threshold, never to borrow a tape. Others who somehow managed to pass muster and were deemed suitable to give him cash, were invariably subjected to a solid tongue-lashing if they were a day late returning his precious films or, even worse, failed to rewind them.

A colleague recalls being called out of a pitch for a major client by his secretary who insisted there was a most urgent call to take. It was a ferocious barrage from Mr Odell that lasted almost as long as the bombing of Desden.

Being able to say you were a customer was strangely gratifying – the AO Seal of Approval. And if you were on his good side it was a pleasure dropping into his shop and picking his encyclopedic film brain even if his elegantly cheong-sammed wife followed you around  the shelves around smiling but thinking “shoplifter”.

 I wish I had a photo of Mr Odell to include here but he was fortunately pre-Facebook and a search of Google Images revealed none. I’m glad in a way – social media would have been something else he would have railed against. Along with video downloads of course.

 But enough raving. Here is Ben Slater’s eloquent tribute…

Mr Odell

The news that Albert Odell, the notoriously cantankerous owner-manager of D & O Film & Videos at Tanglin Shopping Centre had died, seemed to immediately and poignantly epitomise the end of not just an era, but a way of life. At the finale of Once Upon A Time In The West, when Charles Bronson’s character is about to do battle with Henry Fonda, he tells the ageing gunfighter that he’s “the last of an ancient race”. Odell was very much the last of an ancient race. A gwailo born in Hong Kong, fluent in Cantonese and movies, the film business passed down from his father and then his own work with Cathay and Shaw in Singapore. He must have witnessed first-hand in heart-breaking close-up as the film industry here rose and then fell away into nothing.

He was a shop-owner known throughout Singapore, a personality bursting from behind the counter, someone who cared fiercely about his store and its contents. D & O was a one-off—it couldn’t be franchised, branded, marketed, upgraded or diversified. People talked about it and the word spread, and then when you finally entered, you might have had the distinct sense that you weren’t wanted or even needed. This place was open to the public by accident. It was a shrine, a personal collection. To walk through the doors was to take a risk, like slipping through an unlocked front door on a whim.

In the age of hard sell, Odell appeared to have dropped in from another time and place. This wasn’t bad or lazy service (the old Singapore retail curse), rather it was a kind of customer care that was so eccentric to people here as to be offensive. Odell cared far more about the films he rented, than the people they went out to. Like some mythical protector of artifacts, his mission in life was to ensure that the VHS tapes only went to the people who deserved them – those who had proved themselves worthy of the task. So the ex-pats got their Inspectors Morse and Dalgleish no questions asked. Mild murder mysteries to sedate condo insomnia. But for many people, looking up at Odell’s racks of hardcore cinema history, grooving wildly off names like Godard, Fassbinder, Kurosawa, Truffaut, Wenders, Tarkovsky, Altman, Coppola, Bogdanovich, Scorsese, Hitchcock, Roeg, Ray, Hawks, Corman, Suzuki, Beat Takeshi and Wong Kar-Wai (before their were DVDs in libraries, before, before anything) was like seeing the greatest and most magical of treasures that Singapore had never before been able to offer. All the dreams in the dark you had read about in the books. And Odell was the gatekeeper that stood in your way.

My friend Paul was scared of Odell. I was visiting Singapore to make a theatre performance, and we needed two films as research and source material – Powell and Pressburger’s nuns-go- mad-in the Himalayas classic Black Narcissus and the ‘rumble in the jungle’ documentary When We Were Kings. D & O was the only place we would find them in Singapore. Paul insisted I go with him to the shop, just to experience what this guy was like. Odell was gruff, knew Paul by sight, patronised him about rewinding tapes and returning them on time, barely acknowledged me and seemed to be glad to get us out of there as soon as possible. A few days later Paul was on his mobile apologising profusely and desperately about the tapes being late.

Odell brought out this fear, reducing grown adults to the state of quivering, obedient children. At a tribute to him, tales were told that were far worse and more distressing. The man was a tyrant. He put people through hell. Then, little by little he softened, he gave way, he recognised the cinephile in his victims, the passion for films and he got to know those whom he had tormented. We shouldn’t get too sentimental about Odell, like some patriarch in a bad moviewho goes all gooey and sweet in the final reel. I’m sure he wouldn’t want to be remembered like that.

His harsh, uncompromising exterior may have been partly attributed to the battles he fought. A relentless struggle against the petty and ridiculous enforcement of censorship which continually gnawed away at his collection, depriving us of so much in the name of a confused and idiotic set of moral judgments. It was obvious to those who listened to his absurd tales of ‘conversations with the censor’, that this pained him a great deal. Then he struggled for standards – for the basic politeness of returning tapes on time (and properly rewound) that meant so much to him. Small acts of selflessness which he could at least enforce in his tiny corner of the island.

Most of all he struggled for great cinema. Without saying it, he seemed to understand that good films are something truly worth suffering for, and because of that he should not be forgotten.

For more of Ben’s writing go to

The best sale pitch we’ve read in a while

We get a lot of email pitches from prospective research partners around the world and the vast majority sound the same – “we’re really brilliant so don’t forget to get in touch blah, blah, blah…”

Occasionally, one cuts through and deserves to be flagged. Now here’s a bunch of researchers we’d like to meet.


Once again, the ravages of recession necessitate more eye wateringly desperate marketing communications.  

As I’ve said before, I hate doing these almost as much as you hate receiving them, but needs must and there is always the possibility that the planets will align in such a way that this reaches you at the very time you feel like replacing your existing fieldwork supplier.  Stranger things have happened.  

As you would expect me to say, we provide top quality fieldwork in all the methodologies you will need, so, for the hard of thinking, this includes:

– Telephone interviewing – both domestically and, in particular, internationally.  We are especially good at the kind of B2B projects that are often too difficult for most call centres, I can provide proof of this if you ask nicely

– Face to face interviewing – yes it still exists and we can do it exceptionally well all over the UK

– Online interviewing – for those that don’t want to pay for the above two, but still want to point at a number with a stick

– Qualitative research – we do our level best to root out professional respondents as the curse on our industry that they are.  Again, we are very good at getting the hard to reach, this includes IT geeks, Doctors and the wealthy.  We’ve even done focus groups with the homeless

– In support of the above, we have our very own viewing facility.  It is right by Holborn tube station, so we came up with the stunningly original name of Holborn Focus.  We don’t need to be that creative, that’s your job.

So to conclude, we are as good as any data collection organisation in the UK and better than most.  We are not the cheapest and I’m not particularly cheerful, but we will get your project done on time, to budget and we’ll keep you informed at every step of the way.

As if this isn’t enough, we are spending an obscene amount of money exhibiting at the Insight Show on the 27th and 28th of June at Olympia, ours is the stand set up as a pub called The Dog and Data.  There will be hourly pub quizzes, there might be prizes, perhaps even a good one, you never know your luck, but, above all, there will be drink, we will need it.  So come along and say hello.

Thank you for reading this far if you did – Richard Sheldrake , Perspective Research Services

We haven’t worked with them but we will certainly call them the next time we need a partner in UK. And they didn’t send this photo. This is one of our friends who sails with us in regattas in Asia. The caption would read Don’t Tell Me You’re Funny, Make Me Laugh.


Festival of New MR 2010 Rocked

Inaugural Festival a Huge Success. Greg Coops was the Chair of the Asian Programme of the 2010 event.

The Festival was remarkable which I suppose is not unremarkable given that it came from the unbounded imagination of Ray Poynter from The Future Place. From the initial synapse lighting up in Ray’s brain to a marathon session of 22 hours of speakers presenting live around the world took only 12 weeks. The whole enterprise was run by volunteers who helped shape the content and structure. Tickets were ridiculously cheap courtesy of the generosity of sponsors such as Confirmit, Nipo and AMSRS who came on board on faith as an event like this had never been run to our knowledge.
Breathtakingly simple in concept – an online conference on the future of New MR which was all about co-creation and the free exchange of ideas and information. But scarily rigid in execution. Every speaker had his/her presentation rehearsed and recorded but all presented live. Unlike a “real” conference, everything had to run to the minute. We couldn’t run late or start early as people were logging on and off to see specific speakers.
There were some inevitable glitches, for example, when NZ went off the internet temporally. Our audience was then treated to the organisers discussing what we should do – wait a few minutes, drop the session, return to it later? But the void had to be filled so there were spontaneous interviews conducted and random musings until we could get the speaker back online. With instant feedback from the audience via Twitter so we all knew what they thought of the the open mike chatter (some did, some didn’t – typical findings).
It’s great to have all your friends and colleagues in one room at a traditional research conference but you have to love it when you are sitting in a hotel room in Bangkok with a couple of laptops switching from speakers in Australia, NZ, China, India and then introducing a bloke in his kitchen in London where he’d just made breakfast for his kids. And to think that only 25 years ago we used to run research companies in Asia with only one phone line that worked. Occasionally.
P.S. Our thanks to our generous sponsors, superb speakers and discerning viewers from around the world.
P.P.S. Best in Show presentations were deemed to be Diane Hessan, John Kearon (performing live from his kitchen), Shobha Prasand, Jon Puleston and Erica Rule – Diane taking the Confirmit Best in Show prize. The NIPO Best Video was awarded to Ali Macleod and Tanvi Gupta won the The Future Place Best Poster competition.
Don’t miss the 2011 Festival. This year’s event will be run over three days (Asia Pacific on 31 Oct, Europe/Africa on 1 Nov and the Americas on 2 Nov).
For sponsorship opportunities for the 2011 Festival, please contact Greg (

Introducing the Festival of New MR

Welcome to the Festival of New MR – a global event that will run every year and help track and shape the future of our industry. Inspiration is from Ray Poynter (The Future Place) and the board comprises researchers, clients and industry partners from around the world. All volunteers. Asian Strategies is delighted to be on the Editorial Board.

The Festival will run 6-10 December 2010 – an online conference accessible to all to help shape the future of market research. Think “ESOMAR Congress meets Woodstock & Glastonbury”. For a week. 24 x 7. Across all time zones.


Response has been overwhelming and we have to limit participation to 1,000 delegates (speakers, audience members) from the research industry who will be taking part over five days. Presentations will be archived and downloadable so delegates can get access to everything and sponsors will enjoy ongoing publicity as well as during the live events.

Ticket prices will be from as little as $25 as the aim is to reach people who normally don’t attend MRS and ESOMAR events because they can’t travel or afford the time or usually high conference fees.

Some of the speakers: Mark Earls, John Keraon, Ray Poynter, Duncan Stewart, Dianne Hessan, Shobha Prasad, Rijn Vogelaar, Tom Ewing, Jim Longo, Annie Petit, John Clay, Graeme Lawrence, Richard Shaw, Spencer Murrell, Sue York, Tom De Ruyck, Jon Puleston and Finn Rabin.

Confirmit is our Platinum Sponsor and NIPO Gold but Gold Sponsorship is still available for US$5,500 – not expensive given the duration of the event, the continued visibility in terms of content, quality of speakers and audience.

We believe this will become the biggest event of its kind based on the quality of people involved (the influencers of New MR globally) and the Festival’s “first mover” status.

For more information on attending, speaking or sponsorship, please contact Greg Coops at Asian Strategies <>

Survey research evidence in legal cases in Asia is on the rise

Counterfeiting and passing-off have long been facts of marketing life in Asia. But companies are  protecting their intellectual property (IP) rights more zealously and going to court to seek injunctions and damages against those who are thought to be ignoring those rights.

Initially, the plaintiffs were usually multi-national companies seeking to protect their trade marks but now local firms have followed suit. Another trend has been the use of survey research evidence in cases to reliably assess elements such as “goodwill” (what marketers would call brand equity) and the extent of confusion – aspects that were once argued in court without the benefit of independent survey research data.

Courts in Asia are now ruling on more IP and trade mark related cases and research is bound to become more widely used. Many researchers are reluctant to become involved either for fear of offending potential clients by being seen to “take sides” – some international research firms have a policy of not getting involved for this reason – or because they find the court room an intimidating experience (as it often is).

Researchers are far more comfortable in a collaborative client-agency environment and than in a High Court where opposing lawyers are vociferously attacking the integrity of the researcher and his/her data and conclusions!

Surveys that are used in legal cases have to be far more meticulous and rigorous than normal i.e. where the audience is a corporate marketing department and not a judge. Questionnaire design, sampling, interviewing, validation, data processing, analysis and reporting have to be done to a standard of execution and record-keeping far higher than is the norm in commercial research where compromises in design are often made for reasons of budget and timing and “topline” presentations in bizspeak dominate.

In legal cases, textbook research design rules. Clients may not generally care about universes, sampling frames, response rates and sampling error calculations but, in court, be prepared to answer hard questions on all of these fast disappearing aspects of our profession in the era of Research 2.0.

Judges are tough critics of shoddy or biased research. In Malaysia in 2008, a survey was rejected in a passing-off case. The High Court of Malaya quoted a British precedent… in Imperial Group plc v Philip Morris Ltd [1984] R.P.C 293 the court held that the following guidelines must be followed before market survey evidence is admissible:

  1. the interviewees must be selected so as to represent a relevant cross-section of the public;
  2. the size must be statistically significant;
  3. the survey must be conducted fairly;
  4. all the surveys carried out must be disclosed including the number carried out, how they were conducted, and the totality of the persons involved;
  5. the totality of answers given must be disclosed and made available to the defendant;
  6. the questions must not be leading nor should they lead the person answering into a field of speculation he would never have embarked upon had the question not been put;
  7. the exact answers and not some abbreviated form must be recorded;
  8. the instructions to the interviewers as to how to carry out the survey must be disclosed and; where the answers are coded for computer input, the coding instructions must be disclosed.

All these principles are enshrined in the Code of Conduct of the Market Research Society (Singapore) but how often have you read a research report that contains all of the above? In Sanbos (Malaysia) Sdn Bhd– vs –Tiong Mak Liquor Trading (M) Sdn Bhd) the survey research report was deemed to be of no probative value because the research methodology and full results were not fully disclosed, the questions were considered leading, some questions asked participants to speculate in areas in which they were not qualified, the instructions to interviewers were not published and so on.

If your report is going to be used in an Affidavit in court then you’d better be sure that your survey not only meets the highest standards of research but that you have all the necessary evidence to demonstrate it. Courts are not interested in hearing broad assurances from you that, for example, primacy and recency effects exist – you must quote a credible source to back up your claim. And forget PowerPoint presentations, all evidence must be in the detailed, discursive report format that courts use. Think “university thesis” rather than “client debrief”. And don’t forget to wear a nice suit and bow to the judge.

Asian Strategies has been involved in several cases as expert witnesses and witnesses of fact and, so far, we have enjoyed a perfect record of judgments or settlements in our clients’ favour. For more information, contact us at:

Photo: Old Supreme Court, Singapore. Siyuan