Reality TV couldn't get any more real than the stuff that Emma Gilding records with her handheld camera. This consumer anthropologist focuses on the scenes that no network would dare show you--tooth flossing, toast buttering and sock sorting. Gilding dives deep into the consumer psyche for clients like American Express, AT&T Wireless and Huggies. As founder and global director for Ogilvy & Mather's Discovery Group, she sends camera-toting researchers to study consumers as if they were part of some undiscovered civilization.
And to her, they are. Gilding, 32, spent her undergraduate days studying behavioral science and theatrical performance in London. She took a liking to video, and after wandering into advertising, made consumers the stars. Her researchers sometimes spend months with their subjects, studying body language and probing decision making about everything from beer to cell phones. The hours of footage are compressed into a 30-to-40-min. narrated documentary. Then Gilding brings in specialists in fields like psychology to pick apart the video and ultimately help shape a client's ad campaign.
"Our goal is to put the consumer back into the equation," says Gilding. "He is there to teach us, and we are there to learn."
When Huggies hired the Discovery Group last year, Gilding and her crew spent 12 to 15 hours daily with first-time and experienced mothers. They found evidence that Huggies needed to change its ad pitch, which had long portrayed a "happy baby" headed toward a fabulous career--a diaper-clad banker, for example. "But in the late '90s there was a shift," says Gilding. "A happy baby was one that was learning about himself rather than a proposition for the future. Mothers were less interested in a 'mini-me.'" Gilding's film showed mothers enthralled as Baby discovered her toes or a new stuffed animal. The research persuaded Huggies to launch a new campaign, straight out of reality.
--By Carole Buia