Thursday, August 13, 2009

What Some People Won't Do for a Dollar

A few years ago, I lingered just a little too long near the elevators at the mall. I saw her coming right at me, the dreaded little old lady with the clipboard. I tried to run, but it was mid-December and I was weighed down with holiday bags and packages. And cellulite. So she got me. The mall "opinion poll lady." Every mall has at least one, although they sometimes travel in small packs. They come in two varieties: women over age 65 and high school girls age 17-18. Apparently surveys show that women answer more surveys when they're surveyed by seniors, and men answer more when they're surveyed by "seniors."

That momentary polite pause to answer the silverhair's questions about democracy or detergent, I can't remember which, got me onto a marketing research company's phone list. Through the years, they've called or emailed asking me to try out products and render my opinion, in exchange for an envelope of cash. Sometimes my demographic disqualifies me from a study. Sometimes it doesn't. Sometimes, I wish it had. Cases in point:

The Great Diaper Debacle:
Twenty women with infants/toddlers in an overly air-conditioned room. Change crying babies into varying brands of disposable diapers every 15 minutes over the course of two hours. All for $100 (with a bonus if you got pee in a diaper!). Needless to say, every time the 62-degree air hit a tiny penis during a diaper change, tinkle would stream through the air and mothers would try to catch it mid-stream in hopes of another $20. It was like an unairable Monty Python sketch. Ben stayed dry the entire 2 hours. Peed like a thoroughbred on the car ride home, beaming the whole time. Somehow he knew.

The Hubba Bubba Hullabaloo:
A three-day, three-hour study on chewing gum. Bad chewing gum. Sitting in front of a computer, chewing the same piece of gum for an hour and answering questions about its flavor/texture/aftertaste after every 10 minutes of mastication. Three days in a row. All for $150. Now, ordinarily for $150 I'd be willing to chew tree bark for three days. But after the first piece of gum, I was willing to pay them to take me out of the study. Even the world's greatest piece of gum tastes like a flavorless chunk of tar after an hour of chewing. And these were not the world's greatest pieces of gum. But I muddled through, and ended up using the $150 at the dentist getting gum-related TMJ treatment.

Pancake Pandemonium:
This one may seem like a no-brainer. $100 for a half-hour! All you have to do is try three different varieties of microwavable stuffed-pancakes. Easy peasy. Who can't use $100? Who can't spare 30 minutes? Who can't stand pancakes? Yes on all 3 from me.
The first "pancake" was stuffed with what appeared to be chocolate pudding. Anyone under 12 would have loved it. I was 42. The second "pancake" was actually tolerable, with a gooey maple-esque filling. It stayed down. They saved the most interesting for last. A leavened pillow filled with thickened purplish motor oil. Oh, they called it "blueberry filling." But believe me, it was Quaker State 10w40.
This was the only marketing study I've been in where they actually asked you to write down you opinions rather than just click "on a scale from 1-10" answers. Judging from the use of expletives women were using to describe the "blueberry filling," I don't think they'll be allowing that again.

Yesterday's Yogurt Yackfest:
My most recent, most dreaded, and least profitable encounter with market research. Three different coffee-flavored yogurts in 20 minutes for $35. I'm not kidding, 3 in 20. Now let me preface this by saying: "I don't enjoy yogurt." But it was wristband night at the local church carnival, and 3 yogurts gets the boys a free night of carnie folk. Ordinarily, when I have to eat yogurt (and you women know of which I speak), it takes me about 20 minutes to get through one cup. By the time they brought out cup #3 about 15 minutes after I arrived, I had broken out into dairy sweats and was starting to understand why they had covered everyone's computer keyboards with a layer of plastic. I think I signed something last night that says I'm not allowed to talk about the quality of the yogurt for the next few months. Let me just say that two of the three cups did not make it past the lobby restroom. I think it was samples #1 and #3.

Epilogue: Marketing research studies are an excellent way to make a quick buck and develop life-long aversions to gum, pancakes and yogurt. The boys enjoyed the carnival. I went to bed.

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