Hocus Pocus: the truth behind focus groups

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Focus Groups. Two words that conjure up visions of long meandering chats, forced probing questions (yeh jingle kaisi lagi aapko? Model ko kaala chashma pehenna chahiye ya brown?), inane comments, peering at a TV screen and a presentation with charts and diagrams soon after. One school of thought is that in any focus group, only 10 minutes of the discussion is actually meaningful. Rest is prattle.

Such groups have their share of predictability. There will usually be one dominant person who will simply take over the discussion. The participants will start of as consumers, then switch to being the Brand Manager (‘you should give one comb free, you see‘), and then the Creative Director (why don’t you use Dhoni?) and then the CEO (company bandh karo). The so-called analysis and research that follows is even more painful. Most of the presentations regurgitate what the consumer has already said without providing a direction or taking a stand (‘In the Usilampatti group they said the brand is not tasty, but the group in Behrampur said it is very tasty’). So? Of course this is not to dismiss the process entirely. If handled well and if one reads between the lines, such groups can be useful in marketing communication.

Anyway, I am digressing. Came across this article in BrandWeek, where they talk of ‘focus group hypnosis’ increasingly becoming a “secret weapon” for Fortune 500 companies and ad agencies alike.

Volvo equals safety. In focus group after focus group, participants said the same thing. So, Euro RSCG Worldwide, New York, did the obvious thing: It called in a hypnotist.

Members of these unique Volvo focus groups were asked to test-drive the car. Immediately afterwards they were hypnotized and asked their true feelings about the brand. It wasn’t pretty: Many revealed that Volvo also equals being middle-aged. That idea “for some people was suffocating,” said Michael Fanuele, head of planning at Euro. “Hypnosis helped get past the cliches. We needed the conversation to get to a deeper, more emotional place.”

The article does not explain what this piece of ‘information’ led to in terms of tangible marketing efforts. Obviously there are those who believe that this is pap and is a waste of money. I think this is just novelty value and offers no real insight into the purchase decision.

However, just for a lark – wonder which brands would reveal their true side if our consumers were hypnotised too? Hmmm, let’s see – at focus group: ‘I love Microsoft Windows! It is the best!’. After hypnosis: ‘Microsoft Windows sucks!’:)

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