OAHU, Hawaii — They came to discuss the latest in researching consumer attitudes and behaviors. Why, for instance, exuberant ex-NFL coach John Madden projects "beeriness" (a desirable personality trait to most beer consumers) while understated ex-NFL player Pat Summerall does not.
According to Stroh Brewery Co. marketing research group manager Ed Benfield, the elusive quality of beeriness ("it's easy to recognize but difficult to describe") is the reason you'll find Madden performing in beer commercials and Summerall doing hardware store ads.
Notions such as beeriness are no joke among marketing researchers, who recently met here for the American Marketing Assn.'s 17th annual "Attitude Research Conference." The attendees, many of them marketing and advertising pros from Fortune 500 firms, listened intently as speakers such as Benfield likened the probe of "the beery mind set" to the study of cultural behavior by anthropologists. Well actually, as Benfield added, "seat-of-the-pants anthropologists."
So what is beeriness? And (more significantly to researchers) how do you measure it?
Seeking to test his listeners' beeriness quotient, Benfield asked a series of silly questions: "Have you ever taken a rental car to Earl Scheib and had it painted purple? Are your favorite brands of pants Expandomatics? Do little pieces of foam rubber stick to your clothing when you get out of your car? Do you pronounce a word (such as Ralph) when you belch?"
While he drew a lot of laughs with his quiz, Benfield was soberly establishing that beeriness is not exactly a quality that can be identified with a standard line of questioning. "Many aspects of consumer perceptions of a brand and product are simply not knowable," he said. "Additionally, much of what is known is sometimes difficult to articulate. Beeriness, for example.
"So what's often the case is that the collective knowledge about consumers' perception of a product is not written down anywhere in a comprehensive form. It's in bits and pieces, in this research report or that strategy statement. And what's worse, since the most potentially salient aspects of the (research) model are often the most difficult to articulate, they aren't written down at all."
But that was only one of the problems that marketing researchers attending the conference pondered in the course of their three-day meeting.
They also considered the relative merits of conducting attitude or behavior research. In the former, researchers study why people are likely to buy certain things; in the latter, they survey who buys what--where, when and how.
And in the course of their presentations, the lecturers sometimes passed along recent findings in consumer opinion. For example, Tony Adams, Campbell Soup Co.'s director of market research and planning, revealed that one of his firm's recent attitude studies showed major differences in food preferences among men and women.
Men are still much more likely than women to enjoy " macho foods" such as beer, pork and beans, hot dogs, black pepper, steak sandwiches and submarine or hoagy sandwiches, he said. And, according to his research, men are also more likely to prefer "nostalgic foods" (root beer, corn flakes, apple pie, pudding and mashed potatoes) than women are.
On the other hand, women would rather consume what Adams called "trendy foods": herb teas, croissants, quiches and Chinese food. To no one's surprise, Adams noted that the top foods of children are ice cream, doughnuts, chocolate chip cookies and candy bars. But to some amazement, he also told the group that dill pickles are children's second favorite vegetable after corn on the cob.
Attitudes and Opportunity
Why does Campbell Soup care so much about the changing food preferences of consumers, particularly in areas in which the firm has no apparent stake? As Adams put it, "We believe attitudes are what a lot of opportunities are made of."
(To wit: Campbell acquired Vlasic Foods Inc., a manufacturer of pickle products, in 1978.)
The conference was attended by about 110 individuals mostly from the United States but it also drew a few participants from Australia.
Wherever they came from, however, they learned in no uncertain terms that one of the problems they may share is the practice of unwittingly marketing to people like themselves.
Arthur J. Kover, director of research for Cunningham & Walsh Inc., a Manhattan advertising agency, proposed to the audience that "we marketers wish to advertise and market to people we feel comfortable with, people like us: people who are educated, comfortable, successful, whether white or black."
Kover is also an adjunct professor at New York University and when he was introduced as a "nutty professor type" and "the conscience and free spirit of New York," he responded by saying his Hawaiian visit must then qualify him as "academia nut."