THE TORONTO STAR Saturday, August 5, 1999 A21

THE TORONTO STAR Saturday, August 5, 1999 A21

Vision is blurred at many focus groups


Many market, research groups are experiencing tunnel vision when it experiencing tunnel vision when it comes to focus group testing. By dipping and double dipping and triple dipping into the same pool of people again and again, focus groups are really working with a fuzzy lens.

I started attending focus groups when I was 16 years old and I always relished the experience of not only trying out a new product, but being paid for it as well. Though it didn't take long for me to rush through the surveys, get my cash and run.

Since then, I have been repeatedly called, approximately twice a month, by the various groups in the Toronto area and even more times since I turned 19.

But now the novelty has worn off and I am beginning to realize the sheer inconsequence of the groups.

I am not the only disenchanted frequent focus group attendee at these gatherings. It did not take long to notice that it is the same people who go every time.

We all know the drill so well that we are never refused entry by the faceless telephone operators who screen candidates.

I came up with this simple formula that has never failed me yet. The first thing you have to realize is that the person on the other end of the phone does not care about you, and while they may not believe everything you say, they will diligently write it down as if it were the gospel.

The following is an example of the typical screening process:

"Hi, this is Casey from X recruiting, would you be interested in participating in a focus group? It pays $30 for 45 minutes."

The answer to this question is an assured "yes" or "sure," depending on your personal preference both will do quite fine.

"First we have to see if you qualify. Have you done a focus group in the last three months?"

The answer is "no."

Even if you have attended one, they will never check their records and even if the same person called you the last time, it is highly unlikely they will remember, considering that they make hundreds of calls every day.

"Do you or any of your immediate family members work in advertising, television, journalism or media?"

Again the answer is "no" and the same aforementioned rules apply. "Which of the following have you purchased in the last week?"

The answer to any question of this type is always an affirmative "yes." Never take a chance. The one negative you give could be the qualifying question. It has happened to me-on numerous occasions and they never let you take it back.

"Actually I did buy a bottle of wine this week, .1 just remembered," I coyly added after being rejected. I was not even given the courtesy of a response as the dial tone rang in my ear.

Do not be concerned that the phone operator will find you strange for haying purchased every item they list off. -They really couldn't care less.

On many occasions they will ask you if you have any friends who would be interested in coming out. Always give them as many names as you can. It never hurts to be nice to people and who knows, maybe your friends will return the favour.

One of my friends invented a fictional twin brother and requalified under the inventive alias for the same focus group just one hour later than the one he had signed up for under his

own name. After finishing the first group, my friend went to the bathroom, put on a backwards Yankees cap, and went right back in.

Once you get in, the rest is child's play. The focus group supervisors will explain everything they want you to do in baby speak and they may even do it twice to make sure you understand that you should write your assigned number in the top left-hand corner of the survey sheet beside the word marked "number."

It's become almost a social event for my friends and I who now go in-groups and make bets as to who will get out first. We take pleasure in writing down funny answers to the stupid questions that are invariably asked, like, how an image of a certain beverage makes you feel. It's truly amazing that companies are throwing around millions of dollars in these so-called research ventures, where they inter view professional focus group attendees who couldn't care less about the product a company is hawking, even if it's one they use on a regular basis.

Michael Dojc is a student at McMaster University and an Intern at the Town Crier in Toronto.