Someoneout there

A Consumer's Point of ViewSomeone Out There is a new column that is intended to provide an everyday consumer point of view.The column is being alternated between two Toronto-based consumers although we are introducing them together in this issue. These people...

A Consumer’s Point of View

Someone Out There is a new column that is intended to provide an everyday consumer point of view.

The column is being alternated between two Toronto-based consumers although we are introducing them together in this issue. These people would be best described as well-educated, discerning adults. One is male and one is female.

They have been asked to write about any experiences in the marketplace that they feel would be of interest or benefit to marketing people.

The columnists have been asked to talk about both rewarding and disappointing moments.

We have also asked them to keep their subject matter as varied as possible, from the most obvious, such as reaction to media advertising, to the more simple, such as the way they might have been served in a retail store.

Festive Party Loaf: Serves your purposes

Afew years ago, I was asked to be part of a focus group – a new experience for me.

My understanding was that a focus group is a group of ordinary people from the projected target market who tell the potential advertiser what they think of the new product – the idea being that the advertiser can get some idea of how his/her product will be received in the real world – or even if it is worth launching in the first place.

In this particular instance, three people had come up with an idea for a party food that they envisioned being served as part of a buffet at weddings, conferences, etc.

Fuzzy green brick

There were about 15 of us sitting around a boardroom table eyeing what looked like a fuzzy, green brick.

If we had not been told in advance that it was a food product, I do not think all of us would necessarily have leapt to that conclusion.

One of the product developers started slicing up the brick. Or trying to. It oozed. Sections slid. But eventually everyone was given a slab.

On closer inspection, I discovered that the brick slice consisted of three sandwiches piled on top of each other. As I recall (perhaps inaccurately – I have been trying to block out this memory for a long time), one sandwich was sliced beef, one was salmon and I believe the third was egg salad. At any rate, they were three tastes which one should not have in one’s mouth at the same time.

The three sandwiches (six, count ‘em, six slices of bread) were glued together with mayonnaise and then the whole brick/loaf had been slathered with mayonnaise and covered with parsley to create a cohesive whole.

Ooh! Bonus!

My friend was lucky enough to get an end piece, so, in addition to extra mayonnaise, she also scored enough parsley to choke a moose. She despises parsley.

We 15 focus groupers tried valiantly to get through our servings (trying to be polite.) I don’t think anyone made it. Then the leaders asked for comments.

We suggested as gently as possible that the mayonnaise content bordered on the obscene. They explained the mayonnaise was needed as a bonding agent.

We proffered the view that a) there was too much bread and b) the fillings of the three sandwiches did not go together. They argued that the loaf catered to the wide variety of tastes to be found among buffet attendees.

We pointed out that the loaf had been impossible to slice without someone embedding his fingers in it – not an appetizing sight. They looked distinctly put out.

Finally one of them said to me: ‘You haven’t said anything. What do you think of it?’

Embarrassed, but prompted to honesty by the lingering evil taste in my mouth, I said: ‘It looks like something you’d see in Family Circle magazine called Festive Party Loaf.’

That was pretty much it for the focus group.

The point is, we – an objective audience – tried to tell them that their product did not work, and, because they had time and money and hope invested in their product, they did not listen.

When someone has a lot riding on his own opinion, it’s hard to listen for the truth. But in the long run, it pays off.

Zap goes the button on my remote

I don’t think you people understand me.

I have been sitting in front of a tv set for a lot of years, and you have been lobbing commercials at me like artillery shells.

You fire a whole bunch of them, hit or miss, lots are complete duds, a few come close, and every once in a while you achieve impact. Pretty wasteful, I would say, but, hey, sooner or later you used to get me.

Don’t you realize that the war has changed?

For years, I was a sitting duck. Television was relatively new and exciting, there were only a few channels, and, frankly, it hypnotized me. Yeah, I went to the fridge or the can once in a while, but mostly I sat there waiting to get blown off my feet.

No more. Today I am bored with television. I have got more channels than I know what to do with, and, most important of all, I am armed.

Right. You know what I am talking about. I’ve got the zapper. And like they say in all those old movies that show up on Arts & Entertainment, I ain’t afraid to use it.

I do use it. A lot. Partly because it has become a habit, which is a problem you had better recognize and deal with, and partly because you guys have not changed your warfare.

You still mostly talk to me as if I was a captive audience. You actually act as if you think I am interested.

Let me spell it out

Wrong. Let me spell it out for you. I am not going to watch your damn commercials unless your commercials do one of two things for me.

1. Inform me

2. Entertain me

(If you can do both at once, like Leon’s does, you are amazing. But I will settle for one out of two. I do not often even get that.)

‘Inform me’ means tell me something I do not know. Tell me you have got something new on the market, even if it is dumb like black hair spray that is supposed to paint my bald spot.

Tell me that you have got a rotary engine, a new flavor, or a chance for me to win Kim Basinger. Tell me that you have cut prices by 40% and you will give me a year to pay.

(And, incidentally, do not tell me something that is wonderfully interesting to you but not to me, like you have got a new model number, or an improved ingredient. You guys still do that all the time, and you wear out my zapper.)

If you cannot inform me, then you have got to entertain me. You have got to get my brain to tell my thumb, ‘Hey, not so fast, I think I want to watch this.’ And, thank God, there is no formula by which you can do it. Try as you will, you still cannot predict me.

Lots of frenzied action will not necessarily get me. Ask Schwarzenegger. Old Beatles songs will get me sometimes (Air Canada) – but not other times (Oreo.) Polar bears get me. Singing jockeys get me. Go figure.

If you had sat me down behind a one-way mirror and asked me about your planned coffee commercials, I would have told you to cut your caffeine intake.

‘There’s this guy, and he lives next door to this not-as-young-as-she-used-to-be woman, and he runs out of coffee, or she does, or something, so they meet, and they make eye contact a lot, but nothing happens, and it goes on for eight episodes, and…’ Still, I love the Taster’s Choice spots. Go figure.

I know, I know. You need your strategies and your research and your big meetings, because that is the way it works, and the system assures the most efficient and risk-free allocation of resources for optimum targetting and delivery. That’s okay, do it any way you want.

But I am telling you, inform me or entertain me. I am armed.