Market research (MR) is always interesting, sometimes eye-opening, and occasionally vastly entertaining; it is a few of the entertaining situations observed by my friends and I that I am describing below.


Often people complain that market research is useless because people do not do what they say they will do. Quite true, and that is why observing and making inferences from actual behaviour in various environments is so critical.

Once though, we didn’t even need to enquire about a respondent’s past behaviour, or observe her daily routine and purchase pattern in order to spot the anomaly, it was quite evident during the interview itself.

This interview was being conducted to understand health – consciousness and related habits; it was being recorded on camera and we were watching it on a TV in another room. Right at the outset, the respondent claimed to be very health conscious and careful about what she ate, but she was more than a bit overweight, that gave us observers the first reason to doubt her claims. There was about 30-40 minutes of discussion around the work she does, where she shops, the kind of products she buys, etc. At some point, the young lady started feeling hungry, proclaimed that she’d had a very busy day, rummaged about in her handbag, took out a bar of chocolate and proceeded to eat the entire bar! Not five minutes after she had earnestly told the interviewer how she prefers to buy juice rather than aerated drinks for health reasons, and eats a lot of fresh fruit regularly! Yes Ma’am, we believe you.


Picture a focus group composed of middle-aged women, being conducted for a company marketing a regular consumer product  – say a soap, powder or detergent bar. At some point, the respondents are asked about the reasons for selection of a brand, how their preferred brand is better than other brands, do all members of the family use the same brand, what do the others like, etc. Then the discussion veers around to which brands the husbands like, product attributes that the husbands prefer, and how they influence their husbands. At this point, one woman throws a googly into the discussion that leaves the moderator and the observers totally stumped. She coyly explains, “main bachhon ko kisi aur ke ghar bhej deti hoon aur unhein ‘khush’ kar deti hoon” (“I send the kids out to someone else’s house and then make him ‘happy’”). Disclosing this to a group of strangers during a discussion on quite an unrelated topic, this woman was either more frank than the rest, or worked harder at influencing her husband!


And if you thought that only the respondents were entertaining, it’s not so, often one’s own colleagues prove themselves capable of providing dollops of entertainment too!

Market research with Mr. Maths; a young enthusiastic colleague, eager to use the Logic and Quant fundas obtained through years of rigorous study at a premier institution.

[A bit of background – The portion of the discussion described in the paragraph below pertained to understanding affordability and willingness to pay for a product. Now, research on price is complex and accurate answers cannot be obtained through a simple qualitative research alone. Most people find questions about the price they are willing to pay for a product difficult to answer, especially if it is a product they haven’t purchased before and hence lack a reference frame for thinking about.]

One of our respondents answered the questions put to him by Mr. Maths as best as he could, but his answers did not tally too well with his stated income. Our intelligent inquirer, on the other hand, would permit no falsehood and insisted on understanding how the respondent could afford to pay Rs. x as EMI when his annual income was actually ‘only’ Rs. y and expenses were as at least as high as Rs. z. Not a conversation anybody would enjoy, and understandably, our respondent’s temper began to rise and the tone of his answers grew sullen.

After a few minutes of this, the interpreter decided that he’d rather intervene now than be stuck in a police case later; he gently pulled young Mr. Maths aside and pointed out two salient facts – a) the respondent was known to be very hot-tempered and often got violent when annoyed and b) he was known to carry a weapon. Survival instinct trumped the urge for data-gathering and that interview came to an abrupt end.


Market research with Mr. Diligent:

Diligently covering every bullet point from the discussion guide, he asked a poor farm labourer whether he would like to improve his living conditions and quality of life; this, when they were standing in front of the labourer’s hut which had been battered by several monsoons and was visibly close to falling down, and the labourer’s several malnourished stick-thin children stood nearby. Unfortunately, Mr. Diligent also knew the local lingo so there wasn’t even a translator who could modify the question and make it less frustrating. The labourer, tired at the end of a hard day, decided that he had endured enough inanity for one evening. He pointed at his house behind him, said, “aankhen hain tho khud hi dekh lo” (“if you have eyes, then see for yourself”) and walked off muttering to himself, casting aspersions on both the young man’s education and his intellect.


And sometimes the research venue is entertaining enough.

For some product testing research in the South, the venue was the big hall of a Kalyana Mandapam (marriage hall). It was simply surreal – five sets of tables and chairs were set out in the hall, where various respondents sat trying out different products and giving their opinions about them. Beaming beatifically down on everyone as if blessing them were portraits of happily married couples, complete with big floral garlands; in between were scattered statues and sculptures of various gods and goddesses. Quite an auspicious venue for a research, wot!

And, of course, we had a stage, with an arch covered in plastic flowers – in case the product got a thumbs up from respondents, the company folk had the option of breaking into an impromptu victory jig, there was even a sound system available to provide musical accompaniment.


  • Zenobia Driver

(Disclaimer : This is not an entirely original post, some of these anecdotes were related to me by folk working at various companies)