Why everyone lies in focus groups.

Commentary about business and finance.
Oct. 10 2003 6:29 PM

Lies, Damn Lies, and Focus Groups

Why don't consumers tell the truth about what they want?

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So, why do focus groups remain so popular? They are time-honored mechanisms with clearly defined costs and that produce data in a specific time frame. Perhaps most important, they can be used to validate initiatives or concepts that the people commissioning the focus groups have already invested vast resources and time in. Typically, Hollywood focus-groups endings of films or completed pilots—not screenplays and development pitches. Ad agencies tend to focus-group a few ideas they have brainstormed and then report to the client which one scored best. The primary function of focus groups is often to validate the sellers' own beliefs about their product. Focus groups, which are supposed to explore the psychological needs of consumers, may serve as much to fulfill the psychological needs of sellers.

Daniel Gross is a longtime Slate contributor. His most recent book is Better, Stronger, Faster. Follow him on Twitter.