Is there any bigger purveyor of dodgy data than contemporary market research?

A university student I know has several companies phoning regularly to recruit him for group interviews and product sampling. For several years he and dozens of his mates have made decent cash by agreeing that they are users of every product that some hapless MR recruiter calls about, trying to fill their quotas. At first he answered truthfully, until one night the recruiter said “hmm, wrong answer” when he replied he didn’t attend church. So he quickly said with a wink, “oh right, I forgot, I do attend church.” The recruiter gave a nudge, nudge, wink, wink and he was in. So he and presumably many others turned up and pretended to be church goers, answered questions about why they attended and why they thought others didn’t and walked away with tax-free cash. $30-$100 is standard and many people register with several companies and make regular income being pretend consumers. This is such common knowledge that it’s amazing so many companies continue to fall for it.

Over the years he says he’s pretended to read any magazine they ask about, drink or eat anything you can name, smoke and gamble. I asked a group of his mates if they were in on the act and they all chorused incredulously that “everyone” was.

The companies pretend to toe all sorts of pious ethical standards, but the charade of delivering genuine consumers’ views to gormless clients is the first to fall. Feedback Plus (see email below) is even willing to pay non-smokers to pretend to be smokers .. or maybe their tobacco company client has actually told them to try and induce non-smokers to smoke for cash.

From: [email protected]
To: [email protected]
Date: 1 Nov 2007 [time]
Subject: Feedback plus


Feedback Plus are about to start a large cigarette tast [sic] survey later this month.

If you are a cigarette smoker or know anyone that is a smoker that would be interested in taking part in the coming research, consisting primarily of being given cigarettes to test at home and then get paid for their opinions then direct them to the feedback plus website to register.

Also note taste testing is not limited to smokers, new registrations via the webpage for the testing panel and have chance at winning an instant $200 cash.

Thank you,

The Feedback Plus team

Simon Chapman