Dada is the sun, Dada is the egg. Dada is the Police of the Police.

11/18/2005

Focus groups

Apparently, the Democratic Party has been focus-grouping new slogans. The one they ended up with was: "Together, America Can Do Better."

It doesn't seem that my suggested slogan - "Hey, America, Could We Kindly Direct Your Attention To The Fact That The Other Party Is Led By FUCKING IMBECILES AND WAR CRIMINALS WHO LACK EVEN A SHRED OF HUMAN DECENCY??? Because Apparently You HAVEN'T FUCKING NOTICED!!! AAHHHHHH!!!!!" - was among those tested.

I, like many others, am extremely skeptical of focus groups. I haven't heard anyone give a serious defense of their use, so maybe I'm missing something, but it seems to me that they are worthless at best.

Say you're focus-grouping a new kind of breakfast cereal. You get a handful of people who have nothing better to do in a room and start asking them questions about the packaging and the product. They're supposed to tell you, I presume, what they look for in a breakfast cereal, what kind of package they are attracted to, etc. etc. But is there any reason to suppose that their preferences as stated in this unusual, artificial context track their actual preferences - or more accurately, their actual decisions qua consumers? Because if they don't, the focus group has at best just delivered up a steaming pile of completely useless information (at no small cost, either - you wouldn't believe what some focus-group leaders make in a year). At worst, you've got information that will actually send you off on the wrong track, causing you to develop a product that will actually perform worse than if you had just skipped the focus group all together.

But maybe there's some nuances that I'm missing. I'd be interested to hear what they are, though.

Incidentally, one of the stories in David Foster Wallace's latest collection is about a focus group. It's the only focus-group fiction that I'm aware of, and it's actually much more interesting than it sounds. Or at least it was to me.

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