Saturday, June 6, 2009

Why Use Cartoon-Pictographs in Depicting a Buying Scenario?

Good question. In terms of theory, Context-Driven Qualitative Research or Cartoon Sequence Research (CSR) is an extension of the Thematic Apperception Test (TAT), a projective methodology that uses pictures which can be interpreted in a variety of ways. It is most often used to assess personality in the psychoanalytic tradition.

Pictographs seek to understand consumer behavior by providing visual stimuli that is sufficiently contextual yet open to subjective interpretation. Our research shows that respondents tend not to identify with pictures that are too detailed, and cartoon-like pictographs tend to work better.

In practice, twenty to thirty cartoon pictographs are constructed to make a set that shows a buying scenario. For example, one set was developed that showed a couple purchasing an automobile. In this instance, early scenes depicted situations where one would first consider buying a new car. Others showed people looking at car ads in the newspaper, and another showed people driving past a billboard with a dealership ad. Later in the set the remainder of the purchasing process was depicted.

Without going into great detail, it should be noted that there are three types of pictographs that are a part of this process: situational; interactive; and reflective. Situational provide context, such as driving into the dealership or standing in line to purchase something. Interactive show the consumer relating to a salesperson or the product. Reflective show an individual discussing their reaction to a situation.

It is desirable for the respondent to identify with the pictographs, and usually five or six sets are developed. This allows the researcher to match the different sets to the respondents. These include singles, couples, and different age groups.

It is a bit of a challenge to determine the “buying scenario” and to construct the various sets of cartoon pictographs, but the findings are so comprehensive and insightful that the process is well worth it. For more information, e-mail

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