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Unpacking insight: How

consumers are qualified
by advertising agencies

Journal of Consumer Culture

2015, Vol. 15(2) 143162
! The Author(s) 2013
Reprints and permissions:
DOI: 10.1177/1469540513493204

Tomas Ariztia
Universidad Diego Portales, Chile

By describing how consumers are qualified and mobilised in advertising agencies, this
paper aims to contribute to this increasing body of literature that explores ordinary
marketing and advertising practices, knowledge and devices. This is done by unpacking
and analysing a particular aspect of routine advertising work, which is the production
and circulation of insights about consumers in advertising agencies. We argue that
producing insight involves performing a particular type of qualification of the consumer
that relates to two specific processes. Firstly, we describe these practices in terms of an
a extensive process of mediation that involves the deployment of progressive definitions
of products and consumers that pass by different actors in the agency and through
which production and consumption are connected in the very local and specific space of
the advertising agency. Secondly, we argue that this process of mediation goes together
with a process of purification that involves performing a specific version of the consumer aligned with creative advertising work. Furthermore, we describe how this process involves considering some specific consumer qualities and descriptions (mostly
interpretations about possible connections between goods and consumers) and leaving
others asides. We identify this last operation as a particular type of cultural calculation.
This argument is empirically supported by evidence collected from 40 interviews with
advertising professionals and ethnographic fieldwork carried out at eight advertising
agencies based in Santiago, Chile.
Advertising, consumers, consumption cultural aspects, market, professionals, marketing,
qualification, insight

Corresponding author:
Tomas Ariztia, Sociology Department, Facultad de Ciencias Sociales e Historia, Universidad Diego Portales,
Ejercito 333, Santiago, Chile.

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Journal of Consumer Culture 15(2)

While the English word insight does not have a direct translation in Spanish, it is
probably one of the most used words in Chilean advertising agencies. It regularly
appears in advertising professionals discussions about consumers and campaign
designs, and during the critical work of connecting the target with the good or
service that is going to be promoted. For practitioners, insight denotes one of the
central works of the advertising agency, at the base of the campaign process.
However, in spite of its regular use, it is not easy to dene what insight is.
Commonly, insight is understood as a particular nding in a consumers life
that might open up a commercial connection. For advertising professionals,
having insight means being able to recognise a particular experience, attitude or
aspect of the consumer that might potentially be connected with the product or
service at which the campaign is oriented. In fact, producing an insight means
making visible and concrete (and therefore using) a possible connection
between a consumer and good qualities: between dispositions and dispositives
(Cochoy, 2007a).
This paper aims to contribute to the increasing body of literature that explores
ordinary marketing and advertising practices, knowledge and devices (Araujo,
2007; Cochoy, 2007b; Cronin, 2000, 2008, 2010; Moor, 2012; Nixon, 2003;
Slater, 2002b; Zwick and Cayla, 2011a). This is done by unpacking and analysing
a particular aspect of routine advertising work, which is the production and circulation of insights about consumers in advertising agencies. In spite of the fact that
insight is usually described in advertising circles as a nding, we will argue here that
it might be better understood as the outcome of a very complex qualication process deployed by the agency, a process in which dierent actors, knowledge and
devices are involved. We dene this type of qualication both in terms of a process
of mediation (Hennion et al., 1989) and of purication (Latour, 1993) that involves
performing a specic version of the consumer lined up with creative advertising
The paper is structured as follows. The next section discusses existent literature
on marketing practices proposing a general framework to explore how consumers
are qualied in advertising agencies. The following section describes how advertising experts understand and work with insight. The paper nishes with a short
conclusion that discusses how the analysis of the production of insight in advertising work might contribute to the task of empirically mapping the plurality of
qualications practices that take place in marketing activities (DubuissonQuellier, 2010).

Advertising: From market ideology to market encounters

Increasing scholarly attention has been paid to the ordinary practices and devices
of market professionals, particularly marketing and advertising practices (Cronin,
2000; Miller, 1997; Moor, 2012; Nixon, 2003; Slater, 2002b; Zwick and Cayla,

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2011a). Marketing has been explored, from here, either as a collection of practices,
knowledge and devices that help to dene economic goods, agents and encounters
(Araujo, 2007; Cals kan and Callon, 2009 ; Callon et al., 2007; Cochoy, 2007b) or
as a space in which social and cultural categories are assembled, negotiated and
mobilised (Lamont and Molnar, 2001; Miller, 1997; Slater, 2002b).
A central element in this literature has been examining the place of the consumer
in ordinary marketing and advertising practices. The consumer here is broadly
understood as the outcome of multiple social and cultural processes, not as a
given category (Trentmann, 2006). Against this backdrop, authors have explored
how in marketing practices the consumer is being mobilised (Miller and Rose,
1997), manufactured (Zwick and Denegri, 2009) and categorised (Lamont and
Molnar, 2001).1
In this vein, some authors have also explored the role of market professionals
and devices, particularly market research, as a central piece of the socio-technical
network through which the consumer is convoqued and enrolled in markets
(Grandclement and Gaglio, 2011; Lezaun, 2007; McFall, 2011; Muniesa and
Trebuchet-Breitwiller, 2010). What is at stake in this literature is an understanding
of the consumer not only as a central aspect of marketing and advertising practices,
but as one of the outcomes of such practices, knowledge and devices.
In what follows we will address three key issues of the literature on marketing
and advertising practices. We rstly discuss the status of advertisers as a particular
type of economic and cultural mediator. Secondly, we focus on marketing and
advertising work in terms of the deployment of a particular type of qualication
practices. Finally, by discussing recent literature on the relation between market
professionals and the production of consumers, we propose to understand insight
as a further space in which consumers are shaped in advertising work.

Markets professionals as cultural mediators

A central aspect of what has been called the culturisation of economy (Du Gay and
Pryke, 2002) refers to the increasing centrality of marketing and advertising within
the world of production and consumption. It has been argued that the marketing
world, and in particular advertising, plays a central role in manufacturing consumer desire (Galbraith, 1960) and, more generally, in the extension of an ideology
of consumerism and consumer seduction (Sklair, 2002; Williamson, 1978). Desire
and seduction are understood here as critical resources in terms of the production
of postmodern self-identities (Bauman, 2001), the increasing centrality of a promotional culture (Wernick, 1991), and the predominance of a cultural logic of sign
(Baudrillard, 1998; for a critical view see Slater, 1997). Notwithstanding its relevance, and while this view of marketing and advertising can be interesting in terms
of making a global cultural critique of consumer culture, it has often neglected the
empirical study of professional ordinary marketing and advertising practices, such
as spaces in which cultural meanings are deployed and negotiated (Cronin, 2004:
340; McFall, 2004b).

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Scholars have tackled this absence by turning to empirically studying the ordinary practices of marketing professionals. Two bodies of literature are particularly
important for this paper. A rst body, broadly identied by cultural studies and
cultural sociology, analysed marketing and advertising practices in relation to the
concept of cultural intermediaries developed by Bourdieu (1984). Here, marketing
and advertising are a particular type of cultural intermediation between production
and consumption by attaching symbolic meanings to goods and services (Nixon,
1997). This is done by attempting to create a symbolic identication between the
consumer and goods. As the author argues, In doing so, practices of advertising
and design play a key role in the cultural circuit - linking the worlds of engineers
and technicians with that of consumers (Nixon, 1997: 181).
However, the concept of cultural intermediaries has recently been critiqued
(Nixon and Du Gay, 2002). Some authors have argued against the supposed novelty of these practices of commercial intermediation (McFall, 2004). Others have
complained against the over-emphasis of one type of mediation (consumerproduct) over other multiple forms of commercial mediation also present in advertising work (Cronin, 2004b). A further critique might regard the relative stability
that this literature assigns to the category of economic goods and consumers as well
as the relation between them. While literature on cultural intermediaries oers a
description of how marketing and advertising work attach symbolic meanings to
goods, it does not discuss how these practices might involve not only enriching but
actually shaping the qualities of goods and consumers (Slater, 2002b). In fact, the
concept of intermediation reinforces this idea that the cultural work done by advertisers and marketers is additional and does not compromise the nature of the goods
and consumers being connected. In other words, from here consumer qualities are
taken as given and stable and not as the outcome of the practices of these market
professionals. In this vein, some scholars have understood the work of marketing in
terms of a process of mediation that involves transforming and shaping the nature
of goods and consumers being connected (Hennion et al., 1989; Moor, 2012; for a
general argument about mediation see Latour, 2005).
A second body of literature comes from the sociology of markets, particularly
the work of Michel Callon and Franck Cochoy (Cals kan and Callon, 2009;
Cochoy, 2007a, 2007b). Markets are construed here as the outcome of multiple
types of market professionals and devices that organise the encounter between
goods and consumers (Callon et al., 2007; Cochoy, 1998). Advertisement and marketing play a central role here in terms of producing such economic entities and
processes (Cochoy, 1998; Mcfall, 2009). This approach understood economic entities, such as goods, economic agents and market encounters, as the result of an
active economisation process that involves multiple actors and could not be treated
as given and stable entities (Cals kan and Callon, 2009). Market professionals,
thus, enact and circulate particular historically, culturally and materially located
versions of economic goods and consumers (Mol, 1999: 75).
From this point of view, marketing and advertising appear less as intermediaries
between production and consumption and more as a central mediation that

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contributes to assembling market encounters. This approach might enrich a sociological approach to marketing and advertising, as it reconsiders the more mundane
work deployed by market professionals in order to produce the market encounter
between goods and consumers (Mcfall, 2009). However, in spite of these strengths,
one aw in this approach can be seen: these works have mostly analysed market
professionals in terms of what Cals kan and Callon call economisation processes
(2009). By focusing on marketing and advertising in terms of the production of
economic entities, these analyses have tended to obscure the cultural component
and singularity of adverting agencies and marketing practices (Moor, 2012; Slater,
2002a, 2011). In doing so, they downplay the specic dierence between marketing
practices, such as advertising, and other types of market professionals and devices,
such as the nancial markets. This is problematic, because, as McFall recently
argued, the connection between consumers and markets involves other types of
knowledge related to linking economic goods with the everyday life of consumers
(McFall, 2011: 683), particularly the creative use of interpretations about consumers experiences and their relations with goods. In this vein, and following
Moors argument on the relation between marketing and culturalisation (2012),
we suggest examining marketing practices and devices not only in terms of their
ability to produce economic entities and market encounters, but also to produce
and circulate cultural forms (Moor, 2012: 575).

Qualification practices and cultural calculations

Perhaps a good starting point to explore the cultural aspect of the ordinary practices of marketing and advertising might be by considering recent work concerned
to understand the multiple operations of valuation and qualication that take part
in marketing and advertising (Lamont, 2012; Slater, 2002b; Stark, 2009).
A central element here regards the concept of qualication. Following the work
of Callon and colleagues, marketing and advertising practices can be dened in
terms of successive steps of qualication that involve singularising goods and
attempting to attach them to consumers2 (Callon et al., 2002; Zwick and Cayla,
2011b). Qualities of economic goods and other economic entities are not given, but
rather are the outcome of an active production that involves the work of several
market professionals and devices through the identication and valuation of good
and consumers qualities (Musselin and Paradeise, 2005).
Based on the work of Callon and colleagues on the economy of qualities (2002),
Slater developed the concept of cultural calculations to describe the specic forms
of qualication carried out by marketing and advertising experts (Slater, 2002a,
2002b). Contrary to other forms of strategic knowledge, such as formal economics,
he argues that marketing and advertising involves developing and using dierent
types of interpretative and cultural knowledge to qualify goods and consumers
(Slater, 2002b: 246). Here, advertising practices might be understood in terms of
the manipulation of the use value of goods; practices that involve an eort to

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Journal of Consumer Culture 15(2)

connect products and potential consumers with cultural and social categories
(Slater, 2002b: 73).
Furthermore, authors have explored the multiple grammars of valuation mobilised in professional market practices (Lamont, 2012; Stark, 2009). Dierent cultural practices take a central part in marketing practices, such as categorisation
(Lamont and Molnar, 2001), evaluation practices (Stark, 2009) or the use of different grammars or order of worth (Boltanski and Thevenot, 2006). We can understand the process of dening (i.e. qualifying) entities such as consumers as related
to valuation processes (Lamont, 2012: 7; Musselin and Paradeise, 2005). This
involves approaching the qualication of goods and consumers as a practical operation that relates to dierent valuation grammars (Stark, 2009), practices and
devices (Lamont, 2012). From here, what counts about the consumer is neither
given nor dependent on advertiser subjetivities: it is the result of the practical
operations deployed by dierent actors in the agency. As can be noted, placing
this focus on qualication and valuation practices involves focusing on advertising
practical operations. This means understanding qualication and valuation as an
active process or action (Muniesa, 2012). Against this backdrop, the advertising
practice can be construed as an activity that involves performing specic technologies of qualication and valuation in relation to consumers and goods
(Lamont, 2012).

Mobilising the consumer in the agency

How is the consumer qualied in advertising practices? What sort of resources and
practices take part in how consumers are valuated? There is a small, but increasing,
amount of literature focused on exploring how marketing and advertising practices
involve the creation and mobilisation of the consumer. As argued before, a central
element here is linked to the existence of a plurality of practices of qualication in
the advertising and marketing world (Dubuisson-Quellier, 2010). Some scholars
have analysed the role of scientic knowledge in the mobilisation of the consumer.
In a seminal work, Miller and Rose explored how psychological knowledge is
central with regard to how marketing and advertising technologies assemble the
subjects of consumption (Miller and Rose, 1997). In this vein, some argue that
advertising, and its use of consumer knowledge and data, might have a panoptic
role (Hackley, 2002; Zwick and Denegri Knott, 2009). More recently, scholars have
explored the multiple advertising market research techniques that had historically
help to dene and mobilise consumers representations and subjectivities in advertising (Nixon, 2009). Other authors have explored how advertising market research
techniques relate to the use of classicatory and ordering practices through which
market relations and actors are enacted, for example, in terms of calculative agents
and spaces (Cronin, 2008, 2010).
In a similar vein, but from the anthropology of markets, others scholars have
focused on exploring empirically how the consumer is being mobilised in market
research and marketing practices (Grandclement and Gaglio, 2011; Muniesa and

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Trebuchet-Breitwiller, 2010). For example, Grandclement and Gaglio explored

how the focus group as a market research device involves framing the consumer
in very specic ways in order to translate it into marketing practices (2011: 110).
Similarly, others have explored how consumer testing devices involve enacting a
particular type of reality about the consumers, which are then mobilised as part of
market professionals practices (Muniesa and Trebuchet-Breitwiller, 2010).
In this paper we want to empirically explore a further space in which consumers
are shaped in marketing work. By focusing on how advertising agencies qualify
consumers during the design of campaigns, we centre our attention in the internal
work of the agencies rather than on the production and uses of market research. It
can be noted here that while several scholars have explored the gure of the consumer in advertising practices (Cronin, 2004a; Lien, 1997; Moeran, 2005, 2009),
most have tended to focus more on the role that the consumer plays in advertising
practice rather than on exploring the practices of consumer qualication as such.3
We focus on one specic element through which the consumer is produced and
mobilised in advertising agencies, namely insight. We argue that insight involves
performing a particular type of qualication of the consumer that relates to two
specic processes. Firstly, following the work of Hennion et al. (1989) and Cronin
(2004b), we describe these practices in terms of an a extensive process of mediation
that involves the deployment of progressive denitions of products and consumers
that pass by dierent actors in the agency and through which production and
consumption are connected in the very local and specic space of the agency
(Cronin, 2004b; Hennion et al., 1989). Secondly, we argue that this process of
mediation goes together with a process of purication, to borrow Latours concept (1993), which involves mobilising a distinct version of the consumer that suits
advertising work. This work is done by selecting and mobilising some specic
consumer qualities (related to possible connections between goods and consumers)
and leaving others aside.

What is insight? The case of Chilean advertising agencies

Chile is one of the most radical cases of market-led modernisation (Garate, 2012;
Harvey, 2005). Local cultural circuits of capitalism (economists, marketing experts
and advertisers) have had a consistent salience not only in terms of shaping and
aecting markets and economic life, but also in terms of public debate and the
contours of the political and social life (Garate, 2012; Undurraga, 2012). Exploring
ordinary practices of marketing and advertising is therefore not only relevant in
terms of unpacking the empirical relation between market professionals and the
production of social and cultural entities; it is also particularly relevant as it
involves making a contribution to a wider eort of understanding market professions in contemporary Latin-America.
This paper draws on 40 interviews with practitioners from eight advertising
agencies based in Santiago, Chile. More concretely, we interviewed Planners
(in charge of strategic thinking and developing briefs for the creative people,

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Journal of Consumer Culture 15(2)

the Creatives), account managers (in charge of administering client relations) and
Creatives (in charge of producing advertising ideas and developing the campaign).
Agency owners and product managers of the marketing departments of companies
were also interviewed. The methodological approach to these interviews mostly
involved focusing on unpacking the ordinary practices of marketing and advertising; in other words, mapping how marketing is being performed (Grandclement
and Gaglio, 2011: 89). Ethnographic eldwork in advertising agencies was also
used and this involved the participation in campaign meetings and development,
open tenders for new campaigns and advertising and marketing conferences and
public events.4

Unpacking insight
The concept of insight (in English) has been used in Chilean advertising for decades. According to one informant, English words are common in the advertising
industry due to the close connection between Chilean advertising work and North
American and European referents.5 While there is not a direct Spanish translation
for insight, the word is of common use in the advertising and marketing world: it
often appears in informal talks among colleagues and in meetings with clients. It is
also used at a more formal level in business presentations and conferences.6
What is insight? Through the interviews, two central elements could be seen that
dene insight for advertising professionals. Firstly, insight involves nding out a
depth and real truth about the consumer. However, for advertisers, this is not
construed as just any truth, but as a very specic one: insight is buried deep in the
consumer and becomes self-evident after a process of professional work and intuition. Furthermore, the type of reality about the consumer made visible through
insight is trivial, but at the same time unnoticed even by the consumer until advertisers or marketers made it visible. In other words, what insight makes visible is a
true fact or feeling of the consumer that even the consumer did not know until it
was made clear by the professional operation. As an advertiser explained regarding
the type of truth that appears with insight:
It is something very ne, which is moving things that are very deep, [so you say] Ahh I
did not know that this happened to me, discovering it through this message, oh, the same
happened to me. (Male, Senior Creative)

Insight, thus, involves mobilising an aspect that was not visible and making it
visible through the advertising process. The type of consumer that emerges after
that is therefore delimited and packed: it ts the advertising practices, as one
expert explains:
Insight is something that is in the unconsciousness of all people, people realise that when
you tell them. It is when you tell an irrefutable truth (. . .) it is a universal truth which
becomes evident when someone tells you. So, if I nd that universal truth in a brand,

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people say this brand understands me, so it is as I explained: I went to the street,
I listened to you, I hired an agency, I wrapped it nicely and I gave it to you. (Male,
Senior Account Manager)

Secondly, insight might be dened in terms of its relational properties. Finding

insight allows making connections between dierent types of actors involved in the
campaign. Two types of connections were common in advertisers accounts. On the
one hand, insight as a deep truth connects dierent people with some common
experience regarding themselves. In doing so, insight appeals to an imaginary collectivity of consumers. As one advertiser explained:
What is insight? What is insight? I understand it as a situation that happens to someone
and it is replicable to others, so it produces a connection. Insight is: if something happens
to you and me, we are connected, if it happens to another person he/she is also connected
and if it happens to many people we all share the same insight, we are living the same.
I am talking about living the same experience, of course. (Male, Junior Creative)

On the other hand, insight involves establishing a further connection between one
aspect of the consumer and one particular quality of the good (or service) being
promoted. Through insight the consumer is enrolled in the agency as connected
with the good. For advertisers, the success of an advertising campaign or marketing
strategy lies indeed in the capacity of properly connecting consumers inner truths
with good qualities. Insight thus denotes a process of qualication in which some
consumer qualities are identied and valued in terms of the creative process, while
others are ruled out. In doing so, insight is usually understood as one of the
cornerstones of the creative process in the agency.
Insights make great campaigns, it means we see a piece that you see that was made on the
basis on insight and we think like that. (Male, Junior Creative)

Manufacturing the consumers truth

Most interviewees described insight as a nding. It is depicted as an eureka
moment, something that happens or is found when regularly reecting on a specic
consumer in relation to a good during campaign design and execution. In spite of
this inspirational tone, when discussing how insight ts into the daily work of
advertising, it appears as the outcome of a highly complex and collective artisan
work (Hennion et al., 1989). Indeed, the advertisers narratives are full of descriptions of the complex arrangement of practices, knowledge and devices deployed
before and after insight appear. Insight not only is produced in the agency, it also
has to be reinforced, bullet-proofed and negotiated inside and outside the agency.
Along these mediations, the consumer is delimited and mobilised (Latour, 2005:
32). Hard work is therefore needed, not only to produce good insights that might

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Journal of Consumer Culture 15(2)

support the campaign, but also to mobilise and maintain the particular quality
versions of the consumer and to reach his/her inner truth. We might therefore
understand insight in terms of a process of qualication by which several actors
and devices identify value and mobilise only some specic qualities of consumers in
the agency, those qualities that suit creative work. It is through this puried
(Latour, 1993) version that the consumer is enacted in advertising.
How is this manufacturing deployed in the advertising agency? More specically, how and when is the consumer delimited, evaluated, connected, or in other
words, qualied, during the advertising process? The following is a description of
three dierent moments through which insight appears in the daily work of advertising agencies. We describe how manufacturing an insight involves negotiating
with dierent actors not only inside, but also outside the borders of the agency.
What is being negotiated in this process are the qualities of consumers and goods.
We note three moments in this production: (a) when a consumer is translated
from a clients version into a more suitable agency version; (b) the process
through which a consumer is enriched but aligned in very specic ways by planning
work; and (c) how nal insights are developed in creative work by exploiting very
specic qualities of consumers.

The brief and the clients

To start with, insight involves the negotiation of the denitions regarding the
nature of the good and the consumers with clients. The consumer is usually
framed in terms of a set of targets dened by socio-demographic variables and
contextual data that is discussed in meetings. These elements are often embedded in
the brief. The brief is a document in which critical information about the campaign is accumulated, such as target, aims, the company, their competitors, their
ideas, etc. The brief often comes from the client in a more or less structured form
and is understood as a general framework that constrains the possibilities of the
campaign and the qualities of the consumer to be taken into account. During my
eldwork, I was able to examine several briefs. In some cases they were presented in
meetings as emails with marked word and phrases. In other cases, they were presented as a PowerPoint presentation with a fairly standard structure, often a template produced in the agency.
The original version of the brief from the client is translated into an internal
variant and nally into a creative brief. In terms of the qualication process, this
involves moving from a framework that identies and evaluates the consumer
mostly in terms of commercial goals to another that judges consumer qualities in
terms of their possibilities to develop creative connections between goods and
The brief frames the rules and organises the workow of cultural calculations
regarding the consumer, the good and its connections. In doing so, this soft device
takes a central role in equipping the professionals cultural calculations about the
consumer. It therefore helps to open and close available possibilities in the dierent

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stages of the project and to distil the nal concept that will dene the advertising
campaign. As a critical tool, dierent agencies have dierent specic brief forms.
For example, one brief structured the information into ve sequential questions,
some of them related to specically dening the consumer, others to dening the
problem and the change needed and then getting into more detail about the campaign design. The brief is also central in framing meetings and discussions about
how to connect the consumer and the goods in advertising campaigns. For example, during my eldwork I participated in a meeting that had as its purpose to
interpret and adapt the clients briefs for an advertising campaign. (The client was a
non-governmental organisation (NGO) that wanted to create a new donation campaign.) To interpret the brief, we used a board on which we wrote a list of the
qualities of the good as suggested in the brief (in this case the good was the
donation campaign). With this list, we focused on discussing possible connections
between the listed elements and the consumers (target) at who the campaign was
At rst, the clients original version of the consumer predominates; the consumer is often embedded in a commercial problem. Against this backdrop, the
consumer has therefore to be mobilised by the advertising campaign to obtain
certain changes (purchase, brand visibility or another action). For advertising professionals, what predominates is a strategic approximation that has then to be
translated into a more creative version:
The brief is the formalisation of a clients petition. The agency then translates it into a
creative brief, the internal version for the creative people to understand, because they are
not interested in the clients brief. The creative brief also involves planning material.
(Male, senior planner)

The versions of the consumer, as they appear in the clients rst brief, are often
regarded by advertisers as too poor; as one advertiser explained, it has to be
fattened: more work on dening the consumer is always needed. In fact, the original formal description of the brief is often enriched by meetings or further questions. The agency might want to raise further aspects of the companys vision of
their consumer construed from the companys daily activities, get more data for
purchases and also for market research studies.

Enriching and framing the consumer qualities

Most practitioners dene their work, therefore, as a process of translation that
involves moving denitions of the consumer from abstract numbers or client presumptions to a more inspirational rich set of elements that might help to further
develop insights and, in the end, to nd the central concept of the campaign. The
work is thus to mobilise and transform this rst version of a consumer from a set of
relative formal target attributes related to commercial goals into a set of specic
qualities about the consumer that might allow nding connections between him/her

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Journal of Consumer Culture 15(2)

and the goods or services being promoted. In doing so, what is being done is a work
of purication; only some specic qualities of the consumer are selected and judged
pertinent for creative work.
What type of consumer is produced here? Which qualication practices are
deployed in this process? Two dierent but complementary operations were
noted. On the one hand, work is done in terms of enriching the consumers descriptions. This involves complementing the original client version with dierent types
of material that might help to produce a more detailed description. On the other
hand, this process of enriching the consumer is contrasted by the work of lining up
some specic aspects of the consumers in relation to good qualities. These two
processes will briey be described in the next paragraphs.
Regarding the rst process, planning or strategic work often consists of enriching
a consumer description by adding material to the original description provided in the
brief. This work of enriching is done not only by relying on existing collected
information, but is also based on some internal prying and experience. Collected
information plays a central role here as a reality test to describe consumer qualities.
Two types of material are regarded as central: market research and social trends.
Regarding market research, as several authors have recently explored (Cronin,
2004a, 2008; Grandclement and Gaglio, 2011), market research techniques allow
mobilising and defending particular versions of the consumers and their connections
to good qualities and campaign aims. Respondents often mentioned market research
material as a central element to better understand the consumer involved in the
campaign. However, this material is not only valued by advertiser professionals in
terms of nding the most accurate description of the consumer, but also mainly to
produce enough variations and possibilities for further creative work:
We do mostly qualitative studies, but of course also quantitative, but for us the creative
aspect, the input, is the qualitative research, (. . .) it is very useful, as well as the in-depth
interviews, were we found insights which are very useful. They open a lot of possible
paths. (Male, Senior Creative)

The type of sources from which to nd this material is varied. It can be from ordered
market studies, Google desk research, specic websites oriented to provide market
research data7 or by consulting material about dierent groups of consumers collected in other campaigns. A central element here is the general brands research, such
as the BAV. The BAV (Brand Asset Valuator) is a regular market tool used to locate
and value dierent brands in relation to dierent groups of consumers. This device
was commonly mentioned by informants during interviews and meetings and was
valued as a resource with which professionals could start discussing and imagining
the relation between consumers and goods. While often described as too standard,
this tool is appreciated for its ability to provide a common metric for agencies to
quantitatively map dierent brands in relation to consumer groups.
A second type of collected material is the social and marketing trends. They
often come from conferences such as ICARE,8 specialised magazines or internet

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sites and perform a central role in framing new ways of approaching consumers
and linking them with products or campaign aims; as one interviewee mentioned:
It has to do with trends, at the international and the national level, do you understand? So
I constantly have to be giving them information. (Female, Senior Planner)

It is by enhancing original descriptions of consumers, that the possibility of

developing good insight arises:
(This work) is reected in how inspiring the document that the Creatives will use is, and
therefore ideas will be well-nourished with links with this (info), I am talking about
details, sometimes you dress someone for an advertisement or you choose a particular
mobile phone. (Female, Account Manager)

As the previous quote suggests, obtaining good descriptions of the consumer

involves opening up the possibilities of obtaining more varieties of insights. One
interviewee talked about this work as the ability of suggesting entry points to
connect consumer and goods.
The practice of enriching consumer qualities goes hand in hand, however, with
the work on delimiting the possibilities of qualication. This involves going from
dierent aspects of the consumers to only one specic dimension of them. This is
the second process developed by advertising professionals when rst dealing with
clients. This operation of framing was described in several ways, mostly by agency
planners, such as the need to raise the particular problem to solve or the need to
maintain focus during the campaign design:
We are always talking about advertising campaigns, about products or services, so, what is
the problem to be solved? Ok, this can be translated into an insight, it can be translated into
an opportunity in dierent ways. We have to be very clear on identifying what the problem
is, what the real aim of the business and communication is. (Male, Young Planner)

All in all, during this process of mediation, the consumer is enriched but framed/
circumscribed in terms of a specic relation with only a few aspects of the good to
be promoted. The ability to keep this version of the consumer and his/her selected
qualities lined up with those of the goods is regarded as one of the central assets of
strategic advertising work.
The consumer is thus funnelled into a process that allows advertising work to
focus on exploring specic connections between consumer and goods. As one
Creative explained, the connection between creative work and research and strategic work is therefore critical:
Research is critical to feed your insight, we advertisers dont think that we wake up with
an idea, our ideas have to be focused on the consumers needs, insights, (. . .) for example, how can we talk to someone of 25 years we dont know, so research has to connect

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Journal of Consumer Culture 15(2)

that, basically how this guy uses the good or which type of beer does he drink, got it?
(Male, Agency Director)

The consumer that is produced at this stage is thus enriched by research and different data but also very specic in its relation with the good being promoted and
the campaign aim.

Open the door of the consumers truth

We can distinguish a third central moment during the production of insight. This is
often when the proper insight as such is developed and it is usually led by a creative
area within agencies. Based on already produced descriptions, material and meeting discussions, this moment involves choosing and further developing a few specic variations about the consumers qualities in connection with the good. At the
end of this chain of mediations (which begins with the clients brief), only one
aspect, moment, practice, value or feeling of the consumer is selected as an insight
and taken as input for the core concept of the campaign.
In spite of specicity, the qualication of a consumer goes deeper. It can be said
that what is at stake in this last moment of qualication is a radical distillation and
enrichment of previously valued descriptions of the consumer. One Creative told
me, for example, that he understands his work at this level as focusing on real
peoples experiences in order to nd out exactly where they are in relation to a
particular good or topic.
This involves moving from the space of dening general properties of the consumer in general terms to being able to purify a very specic experience or value
that might guide the campaign. Creative professionals in agencies used several
words to refer to this further translation. They often talked about being able to
turn the key of the consumer or to open the door to the consumers soul.
All in all, these further steps mean changing the logic of description, moving
from raw data or description to specic qualities that might be the touching point
for a given campaign. This work is often understood by professionals as moving
from abstractions to real people, and being able to connect with them. They are
often contrasted with the colder consumer qualications provided by quantitative
market research. As one interviewee explained when describing how creative
insight is produced:
You talk to a person, a name, you get it? You dont talk to C2, C3, you talk to Arturo
Gonzalez who lives in a particular neighbourhood, you dont talk to a number, or a
segment. You talk to a person and to make sense to him, what you say, your content
has to be related to him, otherwise it will bounce back. (Male, Senior Creative)

An insight at this level entails a process of qualication that is pure specicity. It is

not enough at this point to have data about the consumer; insight involves nding
and deploying a specic connection between their lives and goods; it is this unique

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experience or meaning that represents insight into the crucial bridge between a
consumers life and the goods and campaign design. This is, in fact, where the
consumer is being touched at least at the campaign design level:
What do all of these (insights) have to do with advertising? How are they related? (The
answer is) that in advertising you talk of insight to sell a good or service, to give a
message. This way you create complicity and empathy with consumers. If I give you a
message, with something that you have experienced, something that has really happened
to you, I have more chance to reach you with my message. Do you understand? This is
what it is all about. (Male, Young Creative)

It is understandable from this that good insights are dened not only as the outcome of market research or an in-depth understanding of the consumer but also
from a purely creative perspective as the possibility to obtain the available description of a consumer and to connect him/her properly to some of the goods qualities.
For doing so, the ability to connect and interpret one specic connection between
consumer and good is central.

By showing how insight is manufactured in advertising agencies, we aim to contribute to the analysis of qualication and evaluative practices deployed by market
professionals. We do so in this paper by raising one particular case of qualication,
that of the insight production in advertising. While it is certainly possible to identify other aspects of advertising work in which consumers are mobilised (such as
media planning), however, qualication practices such as those described here are
at the core of advertising work.
We described how dierent versions of the consumer are performed, translated
and negotiated during the manufacturing of advertising insight. The consumer, as it
appears in the clients brief, is enriched with dierent descriptions and data while
also puried into a specic relationship that is the relationship with the good to be
promoted. At the end only one specic quality of the consumer is selected to dene
an insight (a routine, a feeling, an anecdote, a moment in a practice). This specic
inspirational truth about the consumer suits the production of the creative work.
Two nal remarks can be made in terms of the specicities of this practice of
qualifying and evaluating consumers within advertising agencies. Firstly, the production of consumers insight relates to a central process of mediation that involves
mobilising multiple actors and devices in the advertising agency that play a central
role in shaping the nal version of the consumer.
The nal insight is thus a practical achievement, the outcome of the connection
of several actors involved in the advertising activity. The mediation process also
involves moving the consumer along several dierent evaluative frameworks
(Stark, 2009), for example from the commercially oriented framework of a client
meeting, to the more inspirational search of truth that guides the creatives work.

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Journal of Consumer Culture 15(2)

As described in the previous section, this process of mediation is supported by

external knowledge and devices that contribute to supporting this operation,
such as market research that works to test (Dubuisson-Quellier, 2010) soft devices,
such as the brief that helps to frame and move dierent versions of the consumer
along the process, or measurement devices (Moor, 2012) such as the BAV. A central element of this process of mediation relates to the ability of the advertising
activity to translate and reframe consumer qualities by shifting along these dierent
frameworks, for example by moving from a clients brief that focuses on commercial and general descriptions of consumers to a creative brief that involves a richer
description, but at the same time choosing some specics aspects of the consumer
for purposes of the campaign. The existence of multiplicity repertories of valuation
(or logics) in advertising has been tackled by the literature on advertising agencies,
particularly in terms of the tension between dierent advertising principles, such as
promotional and creative logic (Cronin, 2004a). In this case, however, our description shows that dierent repertories do not seem to be in tension but connected
along the mundane practices of mediation that dene advertising work. In fact, the
consumer, as it appears in the creative insight, results from the movement along
these dierent frameworks.
Secondly, the production of the insight in advertising work can be construed in
terms of a process of distillation or purication of the consumer (Latour, 1993).
What is being puried along these qualication practices is a very specic version
of the consumer, one that suits creative work. We can note some particularities
about this nal, reduced, version of the consumer. On the one hand, it appeals to
the specicity of the relation between the consumers experiences and goods. In
other words, the type of consumer that is being enacted in the insight relates not to
a general description of a person or a social category, but is being reduced to a set
of specic qualities that arise in relation to the good to be promoted. It is thus a
consumer that is contextual to the good. By relying on Cochoys work on captation
(Cochoy, 2007a), we can argue that the advertising insight thus involves a practical
answer to the question on how to link a consumers dispositions with good qualities, namely, by mobilising only some specic qualities of consumers and goods,
advertising work operates producing a relational space in which the attachment or
captation can be produced.
On the other hand, it is worth noting that the activity of valuing certain qualities
of the consumer for purposes of creative work denotes a particular mode of qualication. In fact, a distinctive feature of the production of insight in advertising
agencies relates to the search of an inspirational and specic truth about the
consumer and his/her life: a truth that appears in terms of a personal connection
with the good and one aspect of a persons life. We might characterise the valuation
technology deployed here as related to a particular type of cultural calculation
(Slater, 2002b), one that involves qualitative understandings of the place and
meanings of objects in the consumers ways of life (Slater, 2002b: 61). In virtue
of this focus on a specic consumer experience, this type of operation diers from
other ways of qualifying consumers, such as statistical data, market research or

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customer relationship management (CRM) segmentation works. Following Moors

work (2012), we can thus interpret advertising qualication practices not only in
terms of a process of economisation, but also in relation to the use and production
of cultural forms. This specicity is something that advertising professionals often
do by drawing a clear line between their own (creative) work and the work of other
marketing professionals.
Alvaro Saez and Ines Figueroa provided important assistance in the process of collecting the
information used in this article. Early versions of this article were presented at Latin
American Studies Association Conference in San Francisco, CA. Many thanks to Jose
Ossandon, SIgnacio Farias, Sebastian Ureta and Manuel Tironi for their feedback on previous versions of this paper.

This Research has been funded by Chiles National Fund for Scientic and Technological
Development (Project 11100108).

1. For a critical approach see Cronin (2004).
2. The concept of quality has been also used by Lucien Karpik to denote a particular type of
good and market lead by quality competition. In line with Callon, the author argues that
in this type of market of singularities, marketing and market professionals play a central
role in terms of displaying goods qualities and mobilising them to consumers (Musselin
and Paradeise, 2005).
3. Some have focused on how consumer images are mobilised as a resource to negotiate
commercial relations and strategic positions within the advertising agency and between
clients (Cronin, 2004a). Here the consumer is mobilised within the context of commercial,
strategic negotiations among different actors (such as the clients or other agencies).
4. I assisted at four tender meetings with agencies. I also assisted at the National Congress
of Marketing (ICARE).
5. It is worth noting in this case how local advertising practices and discourses maintain a
particular connection with their counterparts in North America and Europe. For exploring how advertising practices are mediated by the tension between local and global, please
see Miller (1997) or Moeran (2009).
6. For example, several of the speakers in the last national Marketing Conference (ICARE),
used the word insight.
7. See, for example,
8. ICARE is the Chilean marketing association; they organise regular conferences on marketing for which they invite marketing gurus from around the world and local people.

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Author Biography
Tomas Ariztia is associate professor at the Sociology department of Diego Portales
University, Chile. He holds a PhD in Sociology from the London School of
Economics and a MA in Sociology from the Universidad Catolica de Chile. He
is interested in consumption studies and the intersections between cultural and
economic sociology, particularly: consumer markets professionals, consumer cultures and ethical consumption.

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