How Dumb Can Brand Marketing Get?

Last Updated Jun 7, 2011 1:45 PM EDT

Answer: Unbelievable dumb. Read on...

According to a recent article in the New York Times, after DECADES of conducting focus groups, brand marketing experts have FINALLY noticed that attendees simply feed back what they think is expected of them:

Experts say the traditional focus group, in which participants are guided through a discussion about a product or brand while marketers watch from behind a glass window, suffers from a few shortcomings. Responses can be influenced by a marketer's presence, and one person may dominate the whole group.
Well, duh.

Anybody who's conducted or observed a focus group (and I've done both) and has an ounce of self-awareness realizes that the real purpose of a focus group is to gather "evidence" that the company needs to put more money into marketing's pet projects.

What's incredible is that 1) there are still people in the corporate world who think that focus groups have real meaning and 2) that it took decades for "experts" to conclude what any objective observer (with a modicum of insight into human nature) could deduce in about 30 seconds.

What have those "experts" been doing all this time? Examining their own polyps?

Now, you'd think that once the "experts" pulled this particular dead cat out of the bag, brand marketers would conclude that the proverbial "jig is up" and stop trying to foist focus groups "research" into corporate discussions on how to invest sales and marketing dollars.

But you'd think wrong.

Instead, some brand marketers are simply taking the absurdity to an entirely new level. For instance, here's what a "market research" company (quotes intentional) called Spark is doing, according to the Times:

Participants were given iPods programmed with pop music and asked to visually represent how they felt about the concepts for two Web-based applications for Suave, a Unilever hair care line. While the women were creating the collages, representatives from Unilever watched from an adjacent room.
One montage, which included an upside-down Barbie doll in a pink taffeta dress, her outstretched arms giving the appearance that she was falling from the sky, represented vulnerability and the "ultimate feeling of not being in control,...Depending on the context, outstretched arms also represented playfulness and openness, and they were a theme in many of the images the women selected for their collages.
Have you ever, in your life, heard of anything more ridiculous? Grown adults doing kindergarten exercises while marketers play at being pop psychologists who supposedly "interpreting" the nonsense... even though it can be interpreted in completely contrary ways.

Insane!

Of course, the New York Times -- typical of the mainstream business press -- was all agog at the idea. However, anybody who actually does something useful for a living, and has an ounce of common sense, knows that this kind of BS is, at best, a colossal waste of time and money.

Even so, this kind of shenanigan is only marginally worse than much of the airy-fairy junk that's trotted out by marketers who have committed their entire careers to the goal avoiding real work that can be measured in some meaningful way.

What's even more dumb, of course, is that there are top executives who let this kind of thing go on, rather than just saying: "ENOUGH!" and firing everybody involved with such a ludicrous exercise. Including, I might add, the executive who approved it in the first place.

Don't get me wrong. I'm all for montages of Barbie doll pictures. Heck, my five year old daughter does them sometimes. But it's a sad testament to the intellectual integrity of the market profession that this kind of idiocy is taken seriously.

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