ARGUABLY the most creative writing many GCSE students produce is when they make up market research for their geography field projects.

In Brian Mitchell and Joseph Nixon’s new comedy musical The Opinion Makers, the writers suggest that the creative bent has always been evident from the dawn of market research in the 1960s.

“We tried to write a story where every single level from the bottom to the top is venal and corrupt,” says Mitchell who is directing this new version for the Foundry Group, as well as playing melodica and percussion in the band.

“There are no redeeming features and no heroes at all. People think the characters are going out to do the questionnaires, but they are making them all up in the pub and getting the figures wrong.

“Their bosses don’t know this and are trying to make up their own figures.”

The initial inspiration for the tale of a 1960s market research team working on the relaunch of world-famous cure-all Dr Campbell’s Lotion came from a desire to write something about the phenomenon of rebranding.

“Dr Campbell’s Lotion is a pile of crap,” says Mitchell, who was inspired by HG Wells’s masterpiece Tono-Bungay about the creation of a dodgy patent medicine.

“It syncs well with the snake oil which is the business of market research.

“I’d wanted to do something about rebranding for years ever since Heinz said they were going to stop making salad cream, which ended up with questions being asked in the House of Commons.”

He compares the national outcry in 1999, which reignited sales of the condiment, with the launch of New Coke in 1985 – a new, hugely unpopular recipe for the soft drink which saw sales of the “classic” flavour increase.

Other rebranding disasters have included British Airways changing their tail fins from the Union Jack symbol to “world images” in 1997, which was quickly changed back two years later. And in 1998 cosmetics firm Yardley was placed into receivership after a disastrous year-long rebranding exercise.

“We wanted to do something that was composed of a lot of them,” says Mitchell.

“It’s a ridiculous world which has invaded every part of our lives. It’s even spread into Government policy, with road-testing and focus groups.

“With a public consultation exercise there is no real policing of it – if the people of Brighton are stuck with something they don’t like, the council can say they set up a public consultation exercise so you are left with it. It takes the sting out of the ballot box.”

The musical allowed Mitchell and Nixon to be more vitriolic – Mitchell describes the end result as the sort of musical 1960s film-makers The Boulting Brothers or Hancock creators Galton And Simpson might have produced if they were so inclined.

“For some reason you can get away with more cynicism without depressing people if you marry it with a catchy tune,” laughs Mitchell.

The 1960s setting allows for outrageous fashion and fun musical pastiches.

“People forget there were a lot of calypsos, swing and waltzes in the 1960s, it wasn’t all rock and roll,” says Mitchell.

“The 1960s were swinging, but it was far more Tony Hatch, Newley and Bricusse, and John Dankworth. When I was a kid Jack Jones was all over the telly, as was Dean Martin.

“That slick swing and waltz is so redolent of that sales culture.”

The 1960s saw the birth of market research as we know it today – and Mitchell sees the musical as a British riposte to Mad Men.

“If you set something in the past it quite often ultimately speaks about the present,”

he says. “The corruption and incompetence of The Opinion Makers is still with us.”