Why I started IZMALKOWA?

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I am normally the master of making short stories long.
But since being Nominated for Businesswomen of the year is not something that happens to me every day, or even every year, I am going to write a text as long as an Oscar speech – even though I have not won yet.
Hopefully it will not be too much for you.

This story starts a long time ago.
One day I returned from a not so great trip from India. I was constantly sick, people that I was with, were constantly complaining about everything, so…
I was happy to be back home. Nothing bad could happen to me here.
Until Monday.
I suddenly got hysteria attack that I had to go back to work. I realized that I would rather go back to India (not really but… I was dramatic at that time) than go back to the office.
I remember like it was yesterday – how I was arrived on the first floor and tears were streaming down my cheeks.
This situation was ridiculous and I was fully aware that this was me being hysterical. But the important question was: why was I hysterical and crying?
I genuinely loved the people I worked with (we’re still friends). I loved my clients (and they’re still my clients and my friends).
As every psychologist, I had one sure way to find out what is wrong with me – see a shrink. I didn’t want to make it a big issue, so I met my psychology ex professor – “just to catch up”. As soon as she asked “what’s up” –  Pandora’s box was opened. I started crying. Again.
– It’s not what I wanted. It is not the reason I studied psychology.
-But you always wanted to work in advertising.
-So… I guess… I was wrong. I wanted it because I didn’t know what it was.
After this conversation, it was clear to me that I was in the wrong place. What I believed was not what I was doing:

  • I believe people are just who they are. And you must respect that.
  • I believe people change but only if they want to. And you must respect that.
  • I believe in communication not manipulation. And you ALWAYS must respect that.

And in the same time

  • I was painting the grass green.
  • I was creating fake images to make people yearn for perfect Barbie and Ken life – in turn making them feel that they look like shit, that they have boring friends, ugly kids and don’t earn enough money.
  • I was helping to create useless products and services that nobody needed… but after my brief and some amazing creative ideas, they beloved that it was exactly what they needed – that is, until they bought the useless product and discovered that the ad lied to them. Again!

But I couldn’t just leave my job!
Everybody believed I was lucky: I was strategist. I worked in amazing global advertising agency with talented people and great clients. WHAT MORE DO YOU WANT? I felt like I was whining. So, I couldn’t leave my job.
So, the advice from my processor was:

  • Communicate and not manipulate.
  • Stop crying and start doing.
  • Trust your gut more than opinions.

To make long story short: I did.
It didn’t help. So…
I changed job. And then I did it again. And it didn’t work again. So, I left advertising forever.
And THAT was the beginning of IZMALKOWA.

I wanted to have more contact with reality.
When I worked in advertising, I was getting from research reports like: moms love their kids. ALWAYS. Women love cooking and doing family shopping. All men dream about is beer with their mates. The only thing teenagers wants is freedom and time with their friends.
But as one of the bosses of the research agency said:
“You’re not paying for the research, so you should be silent. Do what you’re getting paid for – make use of our research.”
That’s when I decided that I would do research about real people. And work with clients and agencies to show them how to use this knowledge effectively for both people and the brand.
I decided that I would never compromise on the TRUTH about human nature – because I believe that we all deserve respect. Just for being as we are! I also decided that I needed to do more than just being opposed to the glossy, fake advertising images that make people feel bad about who they are.
But first I needed to gain more knowledge about the psychology of lies and the psychology of crowds to make sure that I was acting based on knowledge and science and not just on my fanatical beliefs.
And I discovered the things that created the strong foundations for IZMALKOWA:

  • Everybody lies. Animals, birds, insects and even flowers. But humans dominate. Not because we are bad people. But because we desperately want to be good people. So, when somebody asks us if they are fat, we lie because we don’t want to hurt their feelings. Also, because we have a shit memory – so we make things up if we can’t remember exactly what happened. It’s not bad or good. It’s just HUMAN nature.

That’s why as researchers we ask them to try and remember things they have forgotten or that they don’t know about. We adjust to them. We create a safe space when it is more comfortable for them to be themselves rather than try to be someone they’re not.

Statistical meta-analysis from 25 thousand psychological researches, that include 8 million participants, proved that the role of the social context has huge power and credibility. That’s why, we decided that in our research we WILL ALWAYS take context under consideration. No matter how much money we could save or how much clients insist to do the research fast and without hassle. During 11 years of our existence, we never have broken this rule. Because we not only know from our experience – we know from thousands of other researchers, much smarter than us have proved that our context SHAPES us. So, it does matter if we ask for opinions in a grocery shop, in a bank or in focus group or on the internet. And if you’ve ever had baby, you know this – he is super well-mannered when he’s with guests, but as soon as he comes back home… he’s a devil. Or if you have husband or wife, you also know this rule: context makes a difference. That’s why, instead of calling people and asking them how they chose their laundry detergent, we go shopping with them and we do laundry with them. We cook, we shop, we help them chose a bank, we watch ads, we pay telephone bills with them – we do everything together.
You may think that it’s not your business what we do, that it’s too far removed from what you do. But you cannot be more wrong. We are all influenced by the media. And my fight in life is to make sure that YOU, your family and your whole your tribe are represented in media and advertising as you are. It doesn’t mean showing your kitchen in a mess when your feeding 2-year-old baby, but definitely to stop showing people feeding them in an evening dress with high-heels while having intelligent conversations with their husbands on the advantages of organic carrots over the ones bought in a supermarket.

Izmalkowa uses all knowledge of psychology and sociology, connects them with ethnographic research technics to create our own methodologies.
Ethnographers are the most patient people on earth. They don’t bring people out of their environments for pointless focus groups – they go to Papua New Guinea and live with them, learn their language so they can understand better. Do what people do. And talk with the whole tribe, not just one person who represents their segment 25-35, low income, average education, one child.
We do the same.
It’s possible that we will not change the world (but you never know. We like ambitiotious goals).
But we change as much as we can when we can.
For me, this nomination means nominating everyone who works in Izmalkowa – the most passionate and hardworking people I know. People whose integrity I believe strongly in and whose knowledge and dedication is touching and inspiring for me.
All the people who work in Izmalkowa believe that the truth and reality about people and their life is better (not prettier but better), more interesting and in the end, more effective than making up reality.
Not everybody believes in us.
Not everybody want to hear reality.
Not everybody needs it.
Not everybody wants to change their old habits.
But some people want to. Our clients.
And they’re also nominated for this award.

From the beginning of IZMALKOWA, we knew that not everybody will be brave enough to be our clients. Not everybody will want to go through the fuss of getting to know what people REALLY want and how we can make the best product for them.
We know that not all clients will trust us because we are not a global conglomerate (and it’s still true that at least 2-3 times a year we are turned down for local projects because we are not global).
But the truth is, 70% of our clients are global brands. And they don’t care – they chose us because we deliver what we promise. Because they know we will help them to their job better.
That’s why 83% of our clients return to us after our first research together.
This nomination is a tribute to the clients who decided to research differently.
Who are brave enough to see the world of consumers differently – as a world of people who are their consumers, but primary they are somebody’s daughters, fathers, business partners, friends, dreamers, but also losers, dishonest employees, angry parents etc.
I believe that truth matters.
I believe that there is no one truth – so we must know as many truths as possible.
I believe that research maybe is not the most important part of marketing, but I also believe that if I make sure that this part of the marketing process will be the best as possible, with honesty and integrity – it can make marketing and advertising better.
And I believe that marketing can change people lives and I want to be part of good change.
That is why I’m so grateful for this nomination.
Now I know that it’s not only IZMALKOWA and our partners who believe that marketing can change people lives, the people who nominated us believe it too!

Main photo:
Makeup and styling – Beata Bojda
Photo – Caroline Anielewska & Irek Kamieniak

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