The spotlight, fame, autograph-giving, fortune, the high-life, in fact everything associated with stardom is about to come my way. Yes, I'm about to star on the lower screen of a TV advertisement for a deodorant as one of the 79% of 221 people surveyed who agreed. With their guff.
Mitchum, the deodorant people, collared me in my local supermarket in connection with this potential fame-making opportunity. A nice looking young lady, clip-boarded, rather microclimatically clothed to make a man of my age look at her twice, with the added value of no tattoos and all her own, rather than a set of purchased, teeth.
In exchange for the aforementioned spotlight, fame, autograph-giving, fortune and the high-life I was actually given a bottle of Mitchum roll-on deodorant, but hey, beggars can't be choosers. I was asked a series of bland, tick-box questions (disguised as market research) about my deodorant-buying habits.
I didn't have to lie to the aforementioned microclimatically-clothed female complete with her own teeth! I do actually buy Mitchum as my deodorant of choice. It is by far my favourite, as it keeps my recesses suitably sweat-free, doesn't stain my clothes or make them smell, and a bottle of it lasts a reasonably long time. And it doesn't promise the stomach-churning 96-hour protection offered by some other brands that I am sure, if the delicate piquancy of some on public transport is anything to go by, seem to take far too literally.
This episode did, however, make me think about two aspects of market research that I have always wondered about.
Firstly, the advertisements on television telling women "you're worth it" in an attempt to part them from their hard-earned cash, feature research numbers that are as meaningless as they are useless. Inevitably, and in keeping with a very loose translation of Advertising Standards Authority rules, you will find strewn along the bottom of said advertisements for some over-expensive formulation complete with a bunch of unfathomable ingredients that only purchasers with a doctorate in biochemistry would understand, the words "73% of 129 respondents agreed". Or something vaguely similar. When I see this, I immediately think, hey, there are approximately 20million females who might be persuaded to purchase this stuff, yet they have only surveyed 129, of whom only 102 (well 101.91 of them) actually agreed.
That is 0.00051% of the population. Hardly grounds for congratulations. And neither it is proof that all the quaintly-named unfathomable chemical goop in these products actually has any effect. Worth it or not as it may or may not be.
Secondly, mainstream market research itself. Any good CEO or business owner knows that in order to launch or sell a product or service, you really need to do some research to see whether it is actually worthwhile going to all the bother of so doing. Similarly, it is also necessary to occasionally gather information about an existing product or service and how it is getting along.
I have, over the years, attended what I can only describe as rent-a-mob research, where a group of individuals were all there under quite false pretences, some with no interest in the product, just to make up the numbers!
On one occasion I attended a train research session. I was actually very interested in it, because at the time, some six years ago, I was a regular train user between the North and London, and was totally befuddled as to how a Leeds-London journey could cost over £200 for a standard ticket, yet be under £100 for a first class ticket on the same journey. Similarly, I had regularly found travelling the Transpennine route between Leeds and Manchester or Leeds and Hull produced the same, if not a worse scenario. Friday night peak hours saw the train jam-packed not only with people standing, but with them having paid more for the privilege of travelling at 5.30pm on a Friday than any other day of the week. Meanwhile, if booked online, First Class was often cheaper for the same journey, with a guaranteed seat and a complimentary cup of tea thrown in to boot!
And more to the point, because of the more expensive ticket on a Friday evening out of Hull (mysteriously, sometimes up to three times the cost of a ticket for any other night of the week!) for the 5.30ish train, it used to leave Hull half-empty, while the 6.30ish train, at half the price, was always jam-packed, thus denying workers from outside Hull the opportunity to get home an hour earlier. And also defying logic.
Why we are one of the only countries in the world that allow peak-time commuter travel to be a profit centre for private train companies is, and will remain, an utter and total mystery to me. I have travelled on commuter services in Frankfurt, Melbourne, Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur, Paris, Copenhagen, Barcelona and Budapest and the cost of a ticket on suburban trains, trams and buses remains constant throughout the day.
Back to the research evening. We were a group of eight, and I was gob-smacked, nay totally floored to discover that I was actually the only regular train user in the research group, with one other member an 'occasional' user! How having six people who rarely used trains in a group undertaking research on regular train travel would have been any use whatsoever to the train company who initiated the research group, was way beyond my sense of comprehension.