I was interested to read the winning entries in the Admap prize for 2015. With the essay topic "Does Big Data inspire or hinder creative thinking?", it seemed very relevant to my interests as a researcher in a media agency.
Background: The media industry is in a transition at the moment; advertising money is still moving to digital media, where the ability to target on an individual basis is working under a completely different set of rules to 'traditional' broadcast media, transforming the way advertising is planned, bought and measured.
Last year, I wrote a piece titled "Is Data the new Digital?", about how "data" is becoming a fashionable buzzword which we (ie. the media and advertising industry) use to mean all kinds of data, facts, statistics and information, which risks confusing what we mean when we are talking about targetable data and the new opportunities that it presents for media and commercial communications in a post-broadcast world of one-to-one communication at scale.
Usually, the benefits of "data" are presented as a contrast to the weaknesses of "research" - data is fast, research is slow. Data is easily collected (you're probably already collecting it through websites, phone logs, sales figures etc.) - Research costs money. And Data comes from everyone - Research only comes from those strange people who spend their time filling in surveys and sitting in focus groups.
Anyway, the AdMap editor had this to say about the broader theme of the competition;
Of course, the biggest opportunity is the application of data in helping understand the consumer better so as to form insights for creative strategy, an analytical catalyst for the big idea, exemplified by 'The Dove Campaign for Real Beauty', which was built on the data-driven insight that 'only 4% of women consider themselves beautiful'.
So, where did that "data" come from? Turns out, it was a 2004 "global study of 3,200 women, aged 18 to 64, comissioned by Dove, using the field services of MORI International" (Source.)
In other words, the insight arose before the survey went into fieldwork - the point of the survey was to collect the "data" to valdate the insight. (You don't comission a global survey like that without having a pretty good idea what you're trying to prove.) And it was almost a decade ago.
Personally, I would be inclined to call that "research".