Focus groups are weird and interesting. I used to do a lot of them when I was younger, and I still sign up for them sometimes. I’m a good little consumer. Even though I don’t buy that much stuff because I’m in a bunch of debt, I still want to buy all the stuff and can easily go on about why I like or don’t like something. I can write paragraphs about breakfast sandwiches and beauty balm, or (insert thing that might taste good or make me look pretty), and have no problem verbalizing that.
But yeah. The basic idea is, you sit in a room with people of a certain demographic mix. Sometimes it’s people statistically like you in pretty much every way, which is slightly odd. Sometimes it’s people in your general age range, but a mix of skin colors. Sometimes there’s a diversity of economic or geographic backgrounds. You talk about your opinions on a product or experience, then they give you a check at the end.
What you might not know is that there’s always one person that is not going to shut the fuck up. They don’t get their opinions heard often in real life, and now they have a captive audience. They are stoked. This is their big chance.
- Topic: Fast food breakfast, something near and dear to my heart. A middle-aged woman went on at length about how “fresh” was a very, very important quality to her. Moderator: “You’ve mentioned that word a few times. What does ‘fresh’ mean to you?” She smiled a Cheshire Cat mile, something worthy of winning the lottery, getting laid, and being awarded a Pulitzer in the same day. “That,” she purred, “is what we need to define.” No. No. We don’t. No. I’m sure she’s gluten-free now, despite testing negative for Celiac twice.
- Topic: Blowout bars. Sitting around with a bunch of white girls between 20 and 30, the moderator visibly irritated that we didn’t prefer an awful late 60s throwback interior to something more clean and simple. She kept coming back to the brown-olive-yellow toned monstrosity, rolling her eyes and eventually letting out an exasperated hiss. Shitty faux-retro design doesn’t make 23-year-olds think of tousled waves, and trying to push your boss’ opinion is obvious and awkward.
- Topic: Something about hair color. Females, age 20-30. A white woman with children from the suburbs with a bad blonde dye job said she went to the Mexican salon by her house because it was cheap, even though she was pretty sure they didn’t like her and they didn’t do that great a job. Record scratch.
- Topic: Vodka. We didn’t get to drink it. Mix of males and females, maybe 21-35. They showed us some ads that looked American Apparel-esque, some hot skinny people sitting around a long table in what looked like children’s animal masks, about to play some old-school party game or maybe go kill a person, something vaguely alternative involving clear mid-priced liquor. Whatever. One bro-y guy started to voice his reaction, but was interrupted by a girl who was dead set on letting you know that “I HATE HIPSTERS. WHY DO THEY HAVE TO RUIN EVERYTHING? HIPSTERS RUIN EVERYTHING.” She would come back to this theme throughout our 75 minutes together. Afterwards in the elevator, bro-y guy she interrupted made a crack about how she should shut up, with a thinly veiled undercurrent of “because she’s fat and unattractive”, and in that moment I hated them both.
- Topic: Microwavable meals. This group was uneventful. I was the asshole. In the phone interview, I totally said I ate Lean Cuisine 3-5 times a week. I buy Lean Cuisine every two years then remember how sad and awful they are. But I’ll totally spring for a Banquet chicken pot pie, aka .97 of pure, sodium joy. And seriously, who eats frozen meals that often? Everyone in the room looked relatively unbloated and scurvy-free, so I can only assume they were lying as well.
Lessons learned: People, especially women, don’t get heard a lot in their day to day lives. People are the worst. Some company in the mid-2000s really wanted to make this happen.