Tune into reality marketing

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They call it reality marketing-a deliberately provocative term that evokes Big Brother as much as any tawdry reality TV show.

But in the Robinson home, as [Lynne] bustles around her cheerful kitchen, two Ph.D.-holding sociocultural anthropologists watch her quietly, smiling and chatting when it seems appropriate.

Their mission? Observe the family's eating habits, up to a maximum of nine months, jotting down notes, compiling video clips, examining neurolinguistic word maps.

In short, they're "deconstructing everything," according to Michelle Barry, one of the research-study leaders who works for a Bellevue-based market research firm, The Hartman Group Inc.

Since 1989, The Hartman Group has advised companies such as Whole Foods Market, PepsiCo and Campbell Soup Co. on issues about health and wellness and how to get close enough to the consumer to figure out what they want.

With the Robinsons, they just got a whole lot closer.

Their study kicks off what Chairman and Chief Executive Harvey Hartman and his team hope will be a research series that will be tailored to specific companies in future iterations. For now, the pilot studies are exploratory and focused only on the family's attitudes and actions around food.

"It's not seven executives coming over to watch someone make dinner," explained Barry. "We are not going to ask them what they think of someone's slick new packaging."

-"Tonight's special: reality marketing" by Kristen Millares Bolt, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, Oct. 1.

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