I Do Focus Groups

Call me any day or night

A few months ago I got paid $150 to talk about cheese.

Sweet gig, right? Yup, even in these troubled times, focus groups are still paying good money, and seeing how my unofficial title is the Wizard of Cheese, this cheesly study was right up my alley.

Even better than the cash or the opportunity to lord my cheese wizardry over total strangers was the promise of hilarious blog fodder. What isn’t funny about a roomful of people talking about cheese? But I left that day with only an envelope of bills, my smug satisfaction, and the following lone note, which I’d written in the ladies room:

On the inside stall is an ad for a feminine product called “Flushables,” but below it is a handwritten note: “Don’t flush.” Confusing. Also, “Flushables” sounds like a snack food.

But! I scored another focus group; this time about cell phones. Hmmm. I own a cell phone. Surely I’d be perfect. I was subjected to about an hour of torturous questioning over the phone. From the way the poor girl was talking, I pictured each question on its own separate Post-It, hidden in various rooms of a big house.

Some of the questions gave me hope that the focus group wouldn’t be ALL about cell phones.

If you were given $500,000 to write a book, what would you write about and why?

I had to spell “memoir,” which made me feel both sad and a little mean, so when she asked, “What are your two favorite brands?” I answered Haagen Dazs and Rohypnol.

Regardless of my cell phone ignorance (and my allegiance to a date-rape drug), I got in. In the waiting room, there were more questions. I listened as a lady asked one of the potential participants what sort of commercial he might like to see for a cell phone.

“How about instead of throwing a shoe at Bush, someone throws a cell phone. It’s for YOU!”

Mmmm. Delicious blog fodder.

There were five of us in the conference room, all staring self-consciously into the two-way mirror. My ineptitude was revealed quickly when we were asked to jot down whatever words came to mind when we thought of Sprint.

Everyone else was scribbling madly. Damn! Was Sprint the “Can you hear me now” one? I took as long as I could to write out “c-e-l-l  p-h-o-n-e,” making elaborate curlicues and flourishes. We’d been told there are no wrong answers but not that there are no dumb answers.

Then we had to do the same with Nextel. The others came up with “push-to-talk” (wha-a-a-a?), “walkie talkie,” and “construction workers.” I had

Next: the next step. Tel: telephone

I could sense the disapproving glares from behind the mirror.

Finally, we had to write about Boost. I felt a little better that the older guy to my right had written “energy drink.” I wrote “I am a dumbass.”

It was a long two hours, my friends. And maybe it wasn’t the hilarious blog experience I’d hoped for, but at least they paid me.

When I got home, I found solace with one of my best friends. Cheese, you never let me down.

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35 Responses to “I Do Focus Groups”

  1. 1 Natural

    JD you are too funny. I always start laughing when I’m on my way over here before I read your post. You’re like the mailman, you always deliver. The most important thing is you got paid!!!! I was almost a focus group participant years ago, but I never showed up – they still call too. So I have fun on medical applications and give them my humorous answers – I just don’t get paid. Guess I’m the dumb a$$. Uh you should be able to flush flushables, that’s just false advertisement if you can’t. Flushables sound like snack food for the toilet. If you can flush it, it can’t be good, or edible.
    “c-e-l-l p-h-o-n-e,” LOL. I don’t know anything about the phone either and would have wrote “I hate the phone and the cell the rode in on.”

  2. 2 Natural

    “cell the rode in on”

    uh that’s a typo, of course. i’m on drugs, okay.

    Natural’s last blog post..Pet Peeve Friday

  3. 3 Stephanie

    Alright, how to write a fabulous steal-worthy comment so I won’t come up dry later tonight for Thieving Thursday…Damn! I got nothing.

    I’ve never been in a focus group (they pay you?!? – how can I get this kind of gig?) but it sounds like good blog fodder to me. And CHEESE, how can you not love cheese (I hope the questions went beyond Velveeta).

    You are always a winner to me, JD.

    Stephanie’s last blog post..Shakespeare’s Fortune

  4. 4 Puglette

    i would have a multitude of words for sprint! i hate those suckers!! aarrgghhh!

    i went to a tv show focus group kind of thingy many years ago. all i remember is when they started to show a program set in the bathroom with the star in the bathtub as the whole premise, i realized it would be a long night and went home. no pay.

    and ollie is grateful for all the smooches, and a new national holiday! and last nights ice cream of choice was the humble fudgsicle.

    Puglette’s last blog post..Warmest Wishes

  5. 5 Jeff

    I did one where I had to eat 4 different brands of Cheerios type toasted Ohs and fill out a 10 question survey about the differences. Do you know how many differences are possible among 4 different brands of unsweetened oat circles? Hundreds? Tens? One? None? Exactly.

    Jeff’s last blog post..Thank you for your suggestions – Part III

  6. 6 babs - beetle

    Never heard of ‘Focus Groups’ If you get paid what does it matter what you answer ;O) I think they should also give you free samples of the goods – especially the cheese!

    babs – beetle’s last blog post..Mumbling for England!

  7. 7 Regan

    Mmm… cheese! It would be so awesome to get paid to answer some questions. How old do you have to be for this type of thing? Cause sometimes, the insight of a 12 year old is pretty freaking awesome. Like I could talk about all the latest soda products and TV shows. And how it’s all melting my brain.

    Regan’s last blog post..Girl Scout Cookies

  8. 8 absepa

    I signed up a few months ago for paid online surveys, as a way to make some extra money. The last one I did was for a food product, and it almost took more time than my actual, paying job. The company sent me several samples of their product (some kind of granola-snack-ball-thingy), and I had to eat it at specific times during the day, note my feelings about it…and document every other single piece of food I ate, all day long, for a whole week. For all that trouble, I made $8. It sounds like I picked the wrong type of food–all the big money must be in the cheese surveys.

    absepa’s last blog post..I’m 38 going on 8…

  9. 9 dcr

    I did a focus group a long time ago. I think one of the other participants asked me if I thought the web would be a fad.

    Hated it when they asked stupid questions. How does such-and-such a brand product make you feel? I don’t know. I just use it; I don’t spend a lot of time thinking about it. Do you really think that such-and-such a product is going to make my life better? Seriously, I buy whatever’s on sale. Use it up. Buy whatever’s on sale the next time I need more.

    They quickly had to downplay my answers and kind of switch gears. That’s not what they meant, etc. Probably worried the rest of the group would start thinking, yeah, where are my coupons? Saving money makes me feel good. The such-and-such brand doesn’t make my life complete, but having a few extra bucks left in my pocket sure feels nice.

    Haven’t done one in a long time. I think they’ve stopped calling me, probably because I never returned their calls, which was largely because I hadn’t qualified for a group in a long time.

    One was on wine. I don’t drink.

    One was on the Internet. I do web design and hosting so I didn’t qualify.

    Another was on cologne. The person on the phone tried seemingly desperately to get me to qualify, but I didn’t. Or maybe it was the wine one they tried desperately on. Maybe both. I don’t remember anymore. Didn’t qualify for the cologne one, basically because, you know, I picked a cologne years ago and stuck with it. Ditto for hairstyle. Make a decision and go with it, you know? One less thing to worry about.

    I don’t know how many times they called for video game surveys. It’s like, you have my birth date on file. Don’t you realize how long it’s been since I was twenty years old? Do you know the last time I played a video game? Because I don’t remember. Unless you count the web Flash games I occasionally play, but I’m pretty sure they weren’t counting those as video games, especially since I don’t know if Flash games were popular the last time they called.

    dcr’s last blog post..Maybe She is Getting Too Big…

  10. 10 Rachel

    This was absolutely hilarious… and I design and implement focus groups! Actually, it is a worthy profession, and I love talking to folks like you about cheese, feminine products, cell phones and lots of stuff!

    I’ll definitely come back for a visit. Would love to see what you have to say about telephone surveys! :)

    Rachel’s last blog post..Why Americans (Dis)Trust Wall Street

  11. 11 Steve | Kindledude

    Cell phones? Why even bother? In two years, the choices are going to be:

    (1) The iPhone;
    (2) 2 old tin cans and string.

    The only focus group I ever did was one of those dorky things where you get hauled off a street in New York, put in a room with TV screens, watch excerpts from shows that are so lame that there would have to be 12,000 cable networks for them to even have a prayer of being shown, and then fill out a form stating your reaction.

    And the TV folks seem to think that’s so cool they don’t have to pay you. At least that’s how it was when I did it.

    Steve | Kindledude’s last blog post..The future arrives!

  12. 12 Kyra

    *cracks up*

    As painful as that focus group was, I still envy you, because I’ve tried and failed to find any focus groups to participate in here at all. It’s an easy way to make money and apparently there just aren’t any where I live. My university doesn’t even pay you for offering yourself up as a guinea pig to the psych department or nursing; the closest thing is the experimental econ lab, which does pay, but they’ve had exactly no experiments this semester. After they had gobs last semester when I was off studying abroad.


    Kyra’s last blog post..in which we get photographic evidence of just how much nothing mt. redoubt is doing

  13. 13 Kathy

    The hubs and I participated in a focus group for a new TV show to be aired on TLC (I think). It was at a hotel in Vegas and I think we each got $25. It was really bizarre. They’d have one guy who got 5 minutes to go look through the house or apartment of two different women. After that time, he had to pack a suitcase for each woman. He’d put in things that he thought were important to her to take on a vacation. Then the women, off camera, looked through the contents of their case and whichever one liked hers better, she was picked to take a vacation with the guy.

    We watched three episodes. There were a couple women who didn’t like the guy while on vacation with him. Gee, I wonder why? Maybe because he was a complete stranger who just rifled through all her stuff?

    I remember the show actually made it to air, but didn’t last more than the few shows that were ordered.

    After that, I’d much prefer a cell phone focus group, preferably where they served me cheese.

    Kathy’s last blog post..A Gross Question for Dog Owners

  14. 14 Maureen

    Holey moley… what timing. A few weeks ago I endured a telephone survey about cable companies. After ten minutes of rating her questions (from 1 to 10); she asked if I would be interested in participating in a focus group some time in the future. I agreed.

    Then last week, when I got home from work, hubby tells me he’s going to a focus group to discuss cable companies. Two hours and he gets $ 100 !!!!

    Hey! That was MY focus group! Dammit. Ah, well, I let him take it since he was laid off in January…. but once he’s working again, *I’m* the one going to those things.

    Maureen’s last blog post..I Hate Meetings

  15. 15 JD

    Natural: YES! Thank God I got paid, even for my stupid responses. And you’re right: Flushables! The New Snack Food for Your Toilet!” I like it. I’m still not getting “cell the rode in on” . . . ?

    Stephanie: Aw, thanks. I just hope I can prove myself at another focus group. Maybe one on bunions. The cheese questions had to do only with 3 brands of spreadable cheese (which I’d at least heard of—unlike these cell phone companies).

    Puglette: I wish I’d had a lifeline and could’ve called you! “Quick! Puglette! What’re some words for Sprint?” They don’t care if you say bad stuff—only that you say SOMEthing. Here’s another SMOOCH for Ollie.

    Jeff: Did they give you a palate cleanser between each “O”? ‘Cuz that can throw your game off.

    babs – beetle: I was so disappointed there were no samples at the cheese focus group. They only wanted our opinion on the packaging. Focus groups are what Entrecard and Facebook SHOULD hold before making all these stupid changes and then changing everything back again!

    Regan: You know, I’m sure they have focus groups for young people, too. In fact, I would think a teen’s opinion on cell phones (and most other things) would be way more valuable than mine.

    absepa: I tried my hand at some online surveys a while ago. Talk about a time suck. It sounds so easy tho—work from the comfort of your home! So how was the granola-snack-ball-thingy?

    dcr: Tell us how you really feel about focus groups! Seriously, I would participate in ANYthing whether I’m qualified or not for $150. I was terribly disappointed not to get picked for one on takeaway food. That’s my specialty!

    Steve | Kindledude: Hmmm. You definitely got ripped off. My opinion is worth a lot of money. Well, on most things. Maybe not so much on cell phones. And I agree: the iPhone (and its spawn) is the future.

    Kyra: Aw! Have you tried selling your plasma? That netted me a pretty penny back in college. I’d say try some online surveys, but they are mostly not worth it. Try the plasma. You probably even get a cookie!

    Rachel: Hey, you have a cool job! I was thinking it’d be fun to do what our focus group guy did. I think he said he got to travel all over. And he was really good—upbeat and fun but not obnoxious. If I get another focus group, you can be sure I’ll write about it!

    Kathy: That show sounds vaguely familiar. And awful. And, you know, they didn’t even serve cheese at the CHEESE focus group. All we got both times were store-bought cookies and pop.

    Maureen: They can be kind of fun. Those phone surveys are brutal, tho. I can never keep track of whether “1″ is “strongly agree” or “strongly disagree.” And then I keep having to go back and amend all my previous answers. I hope you get the next one!

  16. 16 Florida Girl In Sydney

    How about someone throwing a cell phone at Bush?
    Sprint = ass… I had sprint landline service (there was no other choice)– they really do suck.

    Do I sound cranky today?

    Florida Girl In Sydney’s last blog post..Little boxes on the Hillside, Little boxes made of Tickytacky

  17. 17 Regan

    Well, my opinion on the cell would be how awesome they are ’cause they’re really good for texting. Because that’s mostly all I do with my cell phone when I’m not taking embarassing pictures of people at parties for later blackmail.

    Regan’s last blog post..Girl Scout Cookies

  18. 18 Marie

    JD, the absolute best blog posts are the ones where we get to tell the WHOLE WORLD, not just the handful of people we were with, that we are indeed dumb asses. But being a dumb ass is where it’s at.

    Now…cheese?!?! I laugh in the face of your cheese. HA!

    I got not so great news at the doctor’s this morning. Nothing immediately fatal, just MS crap. So on the way home I stopped at the market. I bought a Boston Cream pie, a lemon blueberry tea cake, Haagen Daz chocolate peanut butter and…something else, but I already ate it so I can’t remember. And a bottle of vodka.

    The Boston Cream is 3/4 gone. The vodka is 1/3 gone. Now THOSE are true friends. lol

    Plus, I’ll be able to blog tomorrow about how this dumb ass spent the night puking her guts out. lol

    Marie’s last blog post..St. Patrick’s Day

  19. 19 Eric "Speedcat Hollydale"

    I like Blue cheese … 150 dollar aged Blue Cheese!!

    Eric “Speedcat Hollydale”’s last blog post..Pancho Villa El Speed Cat

  20. 20 Juliet

    150 dollars for cheese! I’m envious of your cheesiness.

    It doesn’t surprise me that the most interesting thing came from the bathroom. It’s hard to leave a public restroom without having some kind of odd or life-threatening experience.

    I think the Flushables people must really be into false advertising!

    Juliet’s last blog post..This Just In…

  21. 21 Prefers Her Fantasy Life

    I hate to spell Haagen Dazs.

    Prefers Her Fantasy Life’s last blog post..Why I Prefer My Fantasy Life #218

  22. 22 cardiogirl

    150 clams you say? How does one enter this lucrative focus group gig?

    I’d even take payment in the form of Converse low tops.

    cardiogirl’s last blog post..The book of questions, Volume 34

  23. 23 flit

    that must have been some cruddy cheese if they had to pay people that much to eat it!

    No one’s ever wanted me for a focus group…but they did rather like to borrow my kids when they were younger… which was fine by me…. I was always eager to have someone else take them so I could catch a break

    they did focus groups for cereal ads and stuff

  24. 24 Lola

    Wow! $150 bucks. I could use that kind of green.

    I’ve never been in a focus group, but every time I’m in the mall, the mall survey people get me. One time I got 10 bucks to watch movie trailers.

    Somehow I got on a media group’s mailing list and I periodically get surveys in the mail. They pay anywhere from $5 to $20, cash money. Can’t beat that. I fill them out while I watch tv. Multi-tasking for $20 bucks, not a bad deal.

    Lola’s last blog post..Rants Part II – The Lady Parts

  25. 25 absepa

    The granola-snack-ball was pretty tasty, actually. It was basically like a NutriGrain bar, except in the form of a ball, with about five of the balls to a packet. I think they were supposed to be directed at kids–the survey folks seemed disappointed with my response when I noted that there were no children in my household, and I was the only one who had consumed their product. Maybe if I had added a couple of fake kid responses I would have made more money.

    absepa’s last blog post..Do You Have a "Movie Moment"?

  26. 26 JD

    Florida Girl In Sydney: Damn. If only I’d thought of “ass” to write down for Sprint. Yes, you sound a little cranky, but all are welcome here, especially the cranky ones.

    Regan: Ah HA! So that’s how that picture of me wearing a Ziploc bag on my head got online!

    Marie: Oh, my dear! I hope you’re feeling OK today—both mentally and stomachically. Sounds like you know how to self-medicate pretty well. Dumbasses unite!

    Eric “Speedcat Hollydale”: Yeah! I’ll have to remember that one if I ever get another cheese focus group.

    Juliet: And the whole Flushables thing made me wonder why it was being made such an issue of. Did they have a big Flushables problem in that building?

    Prefers Her Fantasy Life: The poor question-asker could not wrap her brain around the way I was telling her to spell it. “TWO a’s???”

    cardiogirl: Ooh, I wonder if they pay in Vicodin? Or donuts? Just look up “focus groups” online and see if there are any in your area. My mom did one recently where they gave them a whole MEAL!

    flit: We didn’t even have (get?) to eat it—we were asked only about the packaging. As I said earlier, I would think kids’ and teens’ opinions would be way more valuable than mine.

    Lola: I’d watch movie trailers for $10, no problem! And I’d offer my loud, unsolicited opinion as well. I’d do those $20 surveys, too. That adds up!

    absepa: Fake kids. Yes, that’s the answer.

  27. 27 Grog

    I love you!! This blogs makes my day :)
    Keep telling it like it is.

    Grog’s last blog post..Traveling Safely

  28. 28 Stephanie

    As bad as my comments were on your blogs this past week, I stole one for Thursday.

    Here’s hoping my brain returns from its hiatus.

    Stephanie’s last blog post..Thieving Thursday: I Have Brain Aberrations So You Don’t Have To

  29. 29 shakespeare

    I’m with Steve, even though I don’t even have an iphone. I just love Mac anything lately.

    I can’t say I would consider being in a focus group. I won’t even watch a 60-minute spiel on time-shares for a free trip somewhere. Now, if they let me sit around and EAT cheese… not the Velveeta kind, that is… I might consider it.

  30. 30 MamaNeedsACosmo

    Whenever I see the word ‘cheese’, I think ‘government.’ Taking Fla. Girls comment a little further, I’d be happy to fling some cheese at Bush. Some old, moldy, I-bought-that-for-Thanksgiving-and-now-it’s-Independence-Day cheese.

  31. 31 Tippy

    The one time I was feeling magnanimous and decided that I would take part in a telephone survey (unpaid I might add) just to help out the poor sap on the other end of the phone, I was disqualified on the first question…

    Phone Person: “Is there a male in the house between the ages of 20-40?”

    Me: “Nope”

    Phone Person: “Okay, thanks for your time!”

    Me: “Thanks for rubbing it in that I’m still single and living alone…wait, Mum, is this you??”

    It was a survey about beer…I drink beer…granted it’s only on St. Patrick’s Day, but I drink a lot on that day which makes up for my lack of beerness from the rest of the year.

  32. 32 JD

    Grog: Oh, my dear Grog. How you do go on. Please don’t stop.

    Stephanie: I knew you’d come up with something. A truly resourceful blogger/writer ALWAYS comes up with something!

    shakespeare: As I said, I was bitterly disappointed that we didn’t get to sample any of the cheese. Also, even tho I never use my cell phone and hate talking on the phone, I still want an iPhone.

    MamaNeedsACosmo: I’m not gonna be happy until ONE of you YouTubes this cheese/shoe commercial for me.

    Tippy: Huh. That hardly sounds fair. Why do they only care about male beer drinkers? I would think a single female who drinks beer only on St. Patrick’s Day is a bigger demographic than “they” realize.

  33. 33 Jeff

    Now that you mention it, yes… we did have to eat saltines and drink water between samples. Toasted O’s weren’t the only thing we rated that day but I thought they were the most bizarre. Some examples:
    On a scale of 1 – 10:
    1. Please rate your satisfaction of the crunchiness of the O.
    2. Please rate the uniformity of the color of the O.
    3. Please rate the overall O-ness of the O.

    Jeff’s last blog post..Projects and Pain

  34. 34 JD

    Jeff: Ah . . . the mystical and intangible “O-ness.” So elusive but so integral to the Toasted O’s experience. I don’t envy you this task.

  35. 35 Forum

    Never heard of ‘Focus Groups’ If you get paid what does it matter what you answer ;O) I think they should also give you free samples of the goods – especially the cheese!


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