Wednesday, May 11, 2011

"I Think it's Stupid."

It's so easy to make fun at the world of advertising. Whether it's know-nothing bosses, myopic clients, asinine commercials, it is as the military would put it, "a target rich environment."

Furthermore, because the barrel is so full of fish, I can unload my shotgun without ever having to name names or burn any bridges, thus allowing me to still feed at the trough of insanity.

Take focus groups for example.
Or as many colleagues call them, 'F@*k Us Groups'.

Much has been written about this outdated form of research. A methodology that assumes we would view a commercial at home, half asleep on the couch in our underwear, the same way we would watch a cheaply animated, poorly acted, undirected series of stick figures with a bunch of demographically-similar peers and a unlimited supply of stale sandwiches and year-old M&M's.

I don't know where the validity of that comes from but I would like to meet the snake oil salesperson who gave birth to the secretly-miked conference room and one-way mirrored glass.

A friend of mine pointed out the futility of focus groups by noting that 99% of the commercials you see on TV are shit. Not coincidentally, 99% of the shit commercials you see on TV passed the focus group litmus test. I'm no statistician or EVP of Planning & Customer Insight Architecture, but it seems to me the correlation is as much in front of our eyes as that Self-Activated Affluential Housewife from Covina stuffing her face with a tuna sandwich, "Oh my god, did she eat that in one bite?"

Truth is I don't have much to say about focus groups that hasn't already been said. But I do remember years ago we were pitching a phone company and we wanted to see if our concepts resonated with the phone buying public. I was asked...uh, told to be at the facility at 8 o'clock for the first of two groups.

The first was brutal.

"I don't get it."
"I do get it, but I don't like it."
"I get it. I don't like it. And I think the people who come up with this crap are stupid."

Oddly enough, he was right. I was stupid. For giving up my night at home with my family and subjecting myself to this kind of idiocy. The first group picked up their check for $75 and left. I found my way to the coffee room, which unbeknown to me, was connected to the waiting room. In my need to make light of what had just transpired I said to the focus group mediator, who was also getting coffee, "Send in the next bunch of losers."

Not a wise move it turned out, as the next of bunch of losers were all within earshot.

They strolled into the room, grim-faced, and took their seats. Fearing that we had just blown $25,000 worth of research, the mediator tried to rescue the situation, explaining, "the man said 'Send in the next bunch of users." Losers/users, seemed plausible right?

The second group brutalizted the work even more than the first. In fact, they concluded the hate-fest 30 minutes ahead of schedule.

In retrospect, it might have been the best $25,000 I ever threw in the toilet.

1 comment:

george tannenbaum said...

Once I actually learned something from a focus group. I heard someone say something that I wound up using in an ad.

That happened in 1989.

That was the last time.