In Search Of Quantifiable Data

Joe at American Copywriter put up an excellent post today on focus groups and why they ought to be outlawed.

Mention the words “focus group”, and every creative can feel the bile rising in the throat. We know what’s coming. We’ll be sitting behind a two-way mirror for a couple of hours, eating bad snacks, and watching a group of people casually trample the work that we’ve poured our very souls into. Once those plumbers and sales clerks take their places on the other side of the glass, they suddenly become advertising experts. And their opinions suddenly matter more than those of us who’ve been in the business for a long time.

Joe goes on to explain how famous author and New Yorker writer, Malcolm Gladwell, put the spank on focus groups recently at the AAAA Account Planing Conference in Chicago.

He launched into a one-hour rant on why focus groups lead companies toward bad decisions. His three primary points were:
1) Focus groups are biased to favor the known over the unknown, the familiar over the unfamiliar. Because creative ideas are new and unfamiliar, they will always test badly in focus groups.
2) Asking people to explain their feelings is asking them to explain a visceral reaction – something that happens in the subconscious.
3) Asking people to explain their feelings can actually change their feelings.

Gladwell also gave examples of wildly successful products that focus groups hated–Herman Miller’s Aeron chair, “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” and “All In the Family.” See point #1.

About David Burn

I wrote my first ad for a political candidate when I was 17 years old. She won her race and I felt the seductive power of advertising for the first time. Today—after working for seven agencies in five states—I am head of brand strategy and creative direction at Bonehook in Portland, Oregon.