WHAT FOCUS GROUPS CAN DO; HAILS ATTENTION TO DISABLED;ADS BELITTLE MEN, TOO;DONKEY BUSINESS

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I could not let the Forum article by Robert Ferguson go by without comment ("Focus groups may provide unfocused marketing direction," AA, June 12).

To separately address each of his five numbered points:

1. It is true that focus groups are not the answer when your clients are looking for big numbers.... As a matter of fact, focus groups are not the source for any numbers. For that, Mr. Ferguson, we have quantitative research.

2. It is also true that using focus groups as a "quick and dirty" source for reliable data can be a nightmare. But used legitimately, focus groups are a reliable source of information at any stage in a "project's time line."

3. Regarding "hastily organized panels"; any research firm that recruits and organizes a focus group study hastily and poorly is sloppy, is uncaring and is doing their client a disservice.

4. "Quick" research is not necessarily "dirty" research. It is "dirty" only if a research company is willing to accept that level of quality-and so deliberately deceive their client.

5. Used correctly, focus groups can be a legitimate method for examining complex issues. In a focus group-unlike with individual depth interviews-you are not looking for individual opinions .*.*. rather, you are looking for an assessment of how the group responds to the issue.

If focus groups are properly recruited-and each is homogeneous unto itself-then a properly recruited and moderated study can provide the guidance sought. And it can do so a lot more quickly and a lot less expensively than a series of depth interviews.

Howard Willens

Managing partner

Insights & Directions

Hewlett, N.Y.

I agree with everything in Robert Ferguson's article on the misuse of focus groups except the conclusion. He says, "Focus groups can be highly effective in the early stages of research. They provide a good way to learn how customers look at your brand and how they view the product category."

But that's the worst use of focus groups. That's when you hear people say, "I only buy natural products with no sugar .... and only on sale." (And the screener indicates they buy Twinkies by the carload.)

That's when people posture and bully and speak to impress their peers because the panel is under-stimulated. The more stimulation in a panel, the greater and truer the learning ....The best use of focus groups is when you already have a viable idea and want to improve it, refine it, optimize it.

Gerald Schoenfeld

Schoenfeld, Chapman

Tarrytown, N.Y.

I always enjoy reading the copy of Advertising Age my husband brings home from the office each week. But I was especially excited and delighted to learn from the ad in your June 5 issue that an active program is under way to target advertising and marketing efforts specifically to America's many disabled consumers-and to use more disabled actors and models in advertising. The program is sponsored by the Advertising Coalition for People with Disabilities, and I applaud them for it.

Being a one-legged housewife and mother myself, after an auto accident six years ago left me with a stump instead of a right leg, I guess I'm part of the targeted audience. I don't know what percentage of America's 49 million disabled citizens we women amputees represent, but it's about time the marketing powers that be realize that we buy a heck of a lot more than just crutches, artificial limbs and stump socks.

I hope that the coalition gives women amputees appropriate consideration when planning its mixes of disabled actors and models for print and TV ads.

Lisa Sullivan

Boston

I was horrified to read that Joanna Gomes was horrified to read the letters in response to Bob Garfield's column on Rush Limbaugh's Pizza Hut commercial (Letters, AA, May 29). What in the ad says that the majority of advertisements objectify and belittle women?

If men had the same view, refusing to support corporations and products that continually degrade and belittle men in their commercials, men would have a tough time buying anything but tampons, pads and FDS. Ever see a man in a commercial with a cold or sinus where he hasn't been made to look stupid? If men boycotted all the food produce commercials that made them look silly, they would starve to death.

Anyway, back to Rush. What most Rush haters don't understand is that he is an entertainer .... Don't take everything he says seriously. Most people who criticize Rush don't even listen to him. However, based on the last election, a majority of people in the country agree with him or understand when he's telling it like it is or just spoofing all you liberals. From all the anti-Rush comments, apparently it's quite easy to spoof liberals.

Bill Willems

Bloomington, Ind.

I was amazed to see that that insufferable commercial for Visa Gold Card won Ad Age Best in the financial services category (AA, June 5). The ad shows very sloppy research, seeing how the word burro in Italian means butter.

You certainly would not have two streetwise Italian kids confusing a four-legged animal with butter when they know the correct word is asino, which is also the Italian word for dunce.

Max Busetti

Alexandria, Va.

Address letters to Advertising Age, Viewpoint Editor, 740 Rush St., Chicago 60611. Fax: (312) 649-5331. Letters can also be posted through the Ad Age Bulletin Board on Prodigy, or by Prodigy E-Mail at EHBU73A@prodigy.com.

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