Friday 30 April 2010


I have been known to take part in market research groups. Don't ask, just one of the strange things I have done in my life. Perhaps you’ve wondered who made up those focus groups that decide on ads, or test run particular products, or give feedback on programs etc. Then again, perhaps you never even thought of it. I certainly didn’t until a friend of mine dragged me to one. I must admit I’ll do most things out of intrigue. I’m a believer that within any situation, even those you didn’t wish upon yourself, there is room to take in your surroundings and get something from the experience - even if it is sheer horror, amusement, or confirmation that some people out there are just downright freaky. Then again, they also have free food and drinks on hand, and you know how I feel about free stuff. Oh, and did I mention they pay you as well - genius bonus for giving your opinions for an hour or so. I wish my partner/family would sign up to this way of thinking. Of course there is also the sheer fascination of seeing how the advertising world thinks they’re going to get us to buy their products. And for me, if there is an opportunity to put my two sense in, well hell, sign me up. 

There are all sorts of groups one can attend: testing new products, evaluating systems (i.e. the NHS, how things run etc), watching and giving feedback on ads, etc. Some groups, I won’t lie, are downright boring. I’ve sat through my fair share of those and had to dig deep to find something to entertain me. Others are ripe for material in terms of studying one’s fellow humans – I’m a writer, it’s what we do.

In any group there is the moderator. The ones worth their salt can effectively lead a group of miscreants through this process without it taking all damn night. Not all are good at this, you can spot weakness a mile a way. Within the focus group itself, there is always the mute; that guy or girl you are not sure why they came cause they look utterly miserable and are unwilling to participate (hell if I’ve dragged myself there, I’m going to roll up my sleeves and tell you what I think). Then of course on the other end of the spectrum, there is the total nutjob who won’t shut up and needs to give their opinion at full voice at positively every step of the way. These types are usually a bit scary, aggressive, and end up sitting at the far end of the table, cause everyone has slowly moved away from them. Then there is the digresser – as I call them. This is the person who shows up but is clearly only there for human interaction and ends up talking about their cat, mother, or favorite food groups. They are usually harmless, but entertaining as hell. Then there is the food hog – no, this is not me, I swear. That person that stands around the food table inhaling anything edible like they haven’t eaten since last week. I hate watching people eat, so this one is a real challenge for me.

The biggest perk for giving up precious moments of your life is that some of the groups pay well. I mean really well. I got a free weekend at a five star hotel all expenses paid. Okay, I had to give up two days of my life for the focus group, but it actually turned out to be pretty damn funny. Like in high school, splinter groups quickly form and our group was of course the rebellious, yet still effective and creative sort - and if I do say so myself, our presentation (we had to create an imaginary hotel that fulfilled all our wildest dreams) kicked some serious ass. Then there was the one for De Beers where everyone in the group was a young couple – except for me – who came wearing rocks the size of ice cubes on their ring fingers. I was then forced to play the game of deciding what they did, where they came from, and if they could afford a rock that size, what the hell were they doing here?

My sister finds it utterly hysterical I go to these things. She loves when I break it all down and debrief her in that special way that I can – [she’s an easy laugh and I love her for it]. Then again, I think she sometimes worries that I’m the freak mouthing off and hovering around the food table stealing all the sandwiches. 
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