Focus Groups: Behind The Mirror

This week’s Dustinland touches on focus groups, which I experience via my day job, aka my only job: an ad man. It sounds really cool if you watch Mad Men, but read this comic and you might think again. You think Don Drapher had to sit there in a focus group in Baltimore for two days straight, eating crappy sandwiches? And at least if he did, he would have been drinking scotch the whole time.

But yeah, focus groups. I don’t want to give people the wrong impression. You should totally participate in them because it’s a really easy way to make some quick cash, and it’s very unlikely you’ll get made fun of because everyone on the other side of the mirror is usually too bored to even bother, unless you say something that’s just mind-blowingly stupid.

I also don’t want to make it seem like focus groups are completely pointless wastes of time and money that exist only to provide client and agency employees with job security and prevent good work from ever being produced. Maybe about half of focus groups work that way. I’m sure this topic has been talked to death by people with way more industry experience and know-how than I have, so I won’t dwell on it. I’ll just say that I think it’s way more useful to test ideas rather than actual work, especially if it’s in a conceptual phase. For example…

5 responses to “Focus Groups: Behind The Mirror

  1. You get the problem, though, really. You are above-average in intelligence. The average person in a focus group is not as intelligent, probably. So the question is, is the average person in a focus group really representative of the average person looking at your ad? If yes, then you need to dumb down your work a little. If no, then focus groups are somewhat pointless. Right?

  2. Was that offensive? It wasn’t supposed to be. Well, not really.

  3. Naw, I’m not offended. After all, you said I’m more smarter than average!

    But anyway, I think there are a few things you don’t realize about focus groups:
    1 – A lot of the time they’re not looking at the finished project. Take a TV commercial. They cost a lot to make. So you can’t make one, and then test it. You have to test a really cheap version of it called an animatic, which is basically a crappy cartoon. Now, imagine your favorite commercial ever. Would it be the same as a really bad cartoon? Maybe, maybe not. Depends on the commercial.
    2 – People don’t know what they want. They might think they do, but a lot of the time they don’t. 3 – The focus group setting is not natural. Let’s say you come across and ad naturally, over the course of your day. Maybe you’ll notice it, maybe not, but either way, it’s unlikely you’ll really take the time and energy to seriously analyze it. It will have a much more subtle effect. Now imagine you’re sitting in a room with one table with people secretly watching you as some guy shows you an ad and plies you with questions about it. That’s a pretty different experience, isn’t it?

    But anyway, I’m sure there are people with plenty of cherry-picked statistics about how focus groups work 90% of the time so whatevs.

  4. About how much do they pay people to participate?

  5. $50 or so seems the going rate. And that’s usually for an hour.

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