We are delighted to announce that our fantastic fieldwork and data collection partner Populus Data Solutions has picked up the MRS Operations Award for Best Data Solution for the second year running.


The winning project was conducted for leading media agency MediaCom on behalf of Universal Music. The research aimed to test the appeal of different CD cover designs among the client’s target audience of 6-8 year olds. It is an excellent example of PDS’s ability to devise innovative solutions that deliver hard to achieve insight.

The challenge

PDS were required to design a solution that provided insight into young children’s listening habits/music preferences, which could also determine how this audience would instinctively react to CD covers. The difficulty was that the necessary insight could not be achieved through a standard survey, which would rely too much on rational and conscious decision making.

The solution

As well as designing a claimed, explicit survey that provided insight into respondents’ listening habits, PDS worked in partnership with House51, experts in applying behavioural economics to research, to devise an implicit response test that would assess childrens’ automatic reactions to the CD covers.

Together, the two approaches formed an elegant survey solution that was kept under 10 minutes long to ensure maximum engagement, and delivered results in two weeks.

Key features included:


The outcome

The insights delivered provided clear guidance for a major decision about a future album release for Universal Music and directly informed the marketing strategy.

The innovative, implicit response technique was successful in providing another layer of insight with which to analyse results from the explicit survey. This meant that instinctive and emotional responses played an important role in producing the most powerful CD cover design. Ultimately, without the implicit test, a winning design that is likely to resonate with the target audience would not have been established.

Hanna Lubin, Research Manager at Mediacom said:

“Kids of this age are always a challenging audience to interview and understand. The solution from PDS broke new ground in applying an implicit response test to a kid’s audience and they combined this with claimed behaviour questions in a single solution that delivered in less than 2 weeks. Key for us was the engaging approach of the survey solution for kids. By including an on screen avatar to read out the questions we had certainty that the kids responding had understood the questions we were asking and therefore gave us results we can trust.”

A shared passion for innovation

Across the Populus Group, we are inspired by our clients’ challenges and consistently strive to devise innovative research solutions that uncover the insight needed to overcome them.

Here are some examples of research methodologies that dig deeper than a standard survey:

Implicit testing

One of the main challenges of a standard questionnaire is that there are some scenarios in which people simply can’t or won’t tell you what they really think. Implicit testing overcomes this by taking a measurement that people are not aware of, and providing a means of understanding reactions and attitudes that are beyond respondents’ control.

Populus was able to help a major UK charity assess the emotional connection that potential donors felt towards a range of different adverts using this method. We developed a bespoke online tool that measured associations between words and stimulus, testing 8 adverts against 13 different emotional metrics. The findings enabled us to identify 3 stand out adverts based on respondents’ automatic emotional responses. These adverts were then developed further and used as part of the charity’s OOH campaign.

Facial coding

In addition to implicit testing, facial coding is also an ideal solution for clients’ seeking to assess how audiences emotionally respond to video content.

According to Dr. Paul Ekman seven human emotions have universal signals: anger, fear, sadness, disgust, contempt, surprise and happiness. These facial expressions usually occur when people conceal a feeling. The facial coding software used by Populus and PDS is based on this principle. It is embedded within the survey itself and uses respondents’ webcams to record their facial expressions, and therefore their emotional response as a video plays.


Another effective way that we have been able to bring our research to life for many clients are video VoxPops; verbal responses to open-ended questions within a survey that have been recorded on a respondents’ webcam or mobile device. These can be hosted online and included within presentations to add colour to the findings, helping research teams and stakeholders to achieve a deeper, more nuanced understanding of respondents’ views.

Virtual reality

While VoxPops may help clients feel closer to their target audiences, an even more immersive experience can be achieved through Virtual Reality technology. VR offers the chance for insight teams and stakeholders at even the highest level to step inside the world of their audience and not only hear their stories, but experience it for themselves. Populus works in partnership with a digital media agency with expertise in high-quality 360˚ film production. We believe that this type of technology has exciting research applications given its ability to give decision-makers a first-hand insight into audiences’ behaviours, minus the logistical challenge of getting senior stakeholders and audience members together in the same room. As a source of insight, VR is a promising approach that has the potential to help businesses and brands shape strategic and operational changes that have target audiences at their heart.

Online dashboards

Online dashboards are powerful visual storytelling tools that can cut through big, complicated data sets, often from a variety of different sources, to provide powerful and meaningful insights into a business or brand’s audience. Importantly, it doesn’t take a data expert to understand the outputs delivered through online dashboards, making them an ideal way of engaging with even the most senior of stakeholders. They are a welcome and stylish departure from traditional PowerPoint reporting that can also be branded for clients, which gives them a real sense of ownership over the insights.


Populus Group are experts in developing beautiful dashboards for a wide range of clients. In fact, last year PDS were named winners of the MRS Operations Award 2015 for Best Data Solution for their work for Aer Lingus. The project involved real-time monitoring customer experience at all stages of the customer journey, which generated extremely high volumes of data. A real-time dashboard was therefore designed to distil the information into pure, actionable insights on customer experience.

Find out more

If you’d like to find out more about our extensive range of research capabilities, visit our Solutions page.