Interview with Myra Stark
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Robert Foster (University of Rochester) interviews Myra Stark (Saatchi & Saatchi) about the role of research in contemporary advertising
Abstract

Robert Foster (Professor of Anthropology at University of Rochester) interviews Myra Stark (Senior Vice President at Saatchi and Saatchi) about the role of research in contemporary advertising. The interview covers the following topics: 1) the use of qualitative research techniques by anthropologists and psychologists in generating consumer insights; 2) changes over time in the representation of women in advertisements, and women’s responses to these changes; 3) the analysis of social and cultural trends; 4) brands and branding; 5) criticisms of the use of social research in advertising and 6) challenges posed to researchers and advertisers by new forms of media and a new generation of sophisticated media consumers.

RF:

I am Robert Foster, Associate Professor of Anthropology at the University of Rochester. On June 5th, 2001, I talked with Senior Vice President Myra Stark in the offices of Saatchi and Saatchi Advertising in New York about the research process in advertising and, specifically, the goals and methods of consumer research that informs marketing strategies and brand building at Saatchi and Saatchi. Myra is responsible for conducting large-scale studies on consumer issues and identifying and monitoring trends that affect consumer behavior in a changing world. She is particularly interested in adapting research techniques and new learning from disciplines outside traditional consumer research to aid in understanding the totality of the consumer. Before joining Saatchi & Saatchi, she worked for Compton Advertising and a number of research firms, including Harte-Hanks Communications. Myra has a Ph.D. from New York University and an M.A. from Columbia University and taught at Hunter College and Southern Illinois University.

The interview covers these topics: 1) the use of qualitative research techniques by anthropologists and psychologists in generating consumer insights; 2) changes over time in the representation of women in advertisements, and women’s responses to these changes; 3) the analysis of social and cultural trends; 4) brands and branding; 5) criticisms of the use of social research in advertising and 6) challenges posed to researchers and advertisers by new forms of media and a new generation of sophisticated media consumers. Because of the proprietary nature of client research, we agreed not to discuss certain issues and details.

RF:

Let’s begin with your unusual title, Myra.

MS:

I am Director of Knowledge Management and Consumer Insights at Saatchi and Saatchi Advertising, which is probably the most pretentious title (chuckle) you will come across in a while.

RF:

How did you get it?

MS:

I got the title, actually it was bestowed on me during a new business pitch, but it really curiously fits. Knowledge Management in most cases means the IT function-how people actually get knowledge circulating through the agency, and consequently I get invited to speak at all kinds of IT conferences which I have nothing to do with. The sense in which we use it-and this is the sense in which it really fits-is that my function at the agency is to bring the knowledge in the world into the agency, that is, to bring the knowledge out in the world into the agency and see that it gets circulated through the agency. In that sense it is a very good title.

RF:

What do you mean by knowledge? Knowledge that’s out in the world?

MS:

Well, one half of my work is involved with trends-cultural trends, social trends, any kind of trends really. And in that sense it means going out into the world, and seeing what’s happening. So it’s knowledge from all the media-magazines, books, television, movies, what have you-among people in general. And bringing it into the agency and making the connection between this particular social trend and marketing. What are its applications for marketing and research?

RF:

Okay. We can talk a little bit more about trend analysis in a bit, but what about the consumer insights part of the title?

MS:

Well, the other half of my work involves consumer insights and in that sense I’m a researcher, specializing in qualitative...