Trying to Focus
by Mad Dog
I recently had the dubious honor of taking part in another
marketing focus group. This was, according to the people who put it on, "A chance to
let your opinions be heard. To make a difference. To have a hand in shaping the future of
Western Civilization as we've come to know it."
That was, as they say in Psychology 101, a slip of the tongue.
What they meant to say was: "We're going to put you in a room with seven strangers
who were chosen for their sociopathic tendencies, inability to form a complete sentence,
and advancing catatonia while we sit behind a one-way mirror watching you drink Diet
Cokes, eat sandwiches that were rejected by fourteen airlines, and wonder what made you
think it could be worth $50 in cash to miss the Jeopardy $100,000 Alzheimers
Semi-Finals ("Ill take whatever that category was for 100, Alex.").
Ive been on focus groups before. There was one about a
new car advertising campaign (Question: "What would make you want to buy this
car?" Answer: "Change for a hundred."), a radio station's image (I
suggested "Less talk, more dead air."), racism ("Why can't we all
learn to work together?" "Because there isn't a company large enough to hire us
all.") and a travel promotion for North Carolina ("What would make you
want to vacation there?" "A new car for ninety bucks, more dead air on the
radio, and if we could all get a job with the same company.").
The latest focus group was about CD wallets. You know, those
notebook-like things that hold a bunch of CDs? They wanted to know what we liked and
didnt like about them as well as what wed like to see in a new one. Most
participants said the same thing: "ZZZZZzzzzz." Once they woke up they said they
wanted a wallet that would keep CDs from being scratched, would be easy to clean, and
didnt cost a lot.
Fair enough. But then the leader of the focus group made the
mistake of asking what features would get us to buy the ideal CD wallet. One guy said,
"Give it away free with the purchase of a CD." A woman suggested they give out
frequent flier miles when you buy it. Me? I told them I had an appointment to polish my
car keys and asked for my fifty bucks.
These responses all actually happened. Except mine, of course,
which I was about to say until my mind wandered to something even more fantastic, like
being able to go a day without hearing about El Nino on the news.
It makes you wonder about the people who screen the
participants. They do this over the phone by asking such probing questions as "How
old are you?", "Have you bought a new ferret within the past six months?",
and "How many fingers am I holding up?".
Actually, they're not that specific. For some reason only they
understand, they always want the answers in ranges"Are you between the ages of
six and dead?", "Do you live between the Atlantic and the Pacific?", and
"Am I holding up between one and five fingers?". Interestingly enough they never
ask the important questions, like "Do you speak English?", "When do you
have to be back on the rehab ward?", and "Have you ever had an opinion in your
I dont know why they bother. It's not like we have a
crying need for more new products. Face it, there are already too many choices. Every time
I go shopping I come home with at least one wrong version of a product. Where we once had
plain old mayonnaise we now get to choose from lo-fat, fat-free, low sodium, no
cholesterol, caffeine-free, and clear versions. Nowadays bars are required by law to stock
172 brands of beer, and even then someone will stagger in looking for Bud Genuine Lite Ice
Dry Lager and file a lawsuit claiming beer discrimination when the bartender says he has
bottles and the customer wants a draft. Heck, even One-A-Day vitamins mutated into five
different formulas, making me wonder if all those years I'd been popping the
Wrong-One-A-Day without even knowing it?
There is, of course, a simple cure for all this product
clutterbesides going into the stores and slapping radioactive warning stickers on
any package that uses the word "lo", "lite", or "luncheon
meat" (three of the scariest words in the English language). More focus groups.
Think about it. If each of us spent just two hours a day in
focus groups we'd not only be able to shape the future of Western Civilization as we've
come to know it, but wed have two hours less each day to use all these extraneous
products, meaning they wouldnt bother putting them out. The only down side to this
is that our consumption of Diet Cokes and bad sandwiches would go up alarmingly. Oh yeah.
And the Lo-fat Hi-fiber Super Prozac Extend-Tabs in the handy pocket pak wed be
taking so we could tolerate the guy who keeps suggesting that they give frequent flier
miles with every product. But thats a small price to pay for progress, dont