Recently, I received a phone call from market research company. I’ve done work for market research companies before. One time, it was to discuss apartments where I got paid $100. Another time was to discuss supermarkets where I got paid $75. The third was those mall researchers who grab you to view trailers or ads. That paid me $10 to answer questions about a hideous Olive Garden commercial (and boy did I give them an earful). So when the call came in to do more market research, I didn’t object.
The caller asked me some questions. “How often do you watch TV in a week?” Well, I don’t “watch” TV so much these days. I do have the TV on nearly all the time. In the evenings when I’m off, I’ll have it on Fox News until I can’t stand to hear it any longer. Then I might switch it to the Military Channel for background noise. Otherwise, I’ll have VHS tapes or DVD’s playing as background while I do various things. That didn’t seem to matter, so I gave what I thought might be the average time I watch in a week (which are only on the days I’m off). Then the caller asked me how often I watched dramas. Does Battlestar Galactica count as a “drama” title since it has lots of drama despite being a sci-fi show? So I said, “none.” Then the caller asked me how often I watched sitcoms. I haven’t watched a sitcom in years, and said “none.” Again, that didn’t seem to matter. How odd.
The caller asked me if I’d be willing to review a new sitcom in development. The caller didn’t state the name of the sitcom, but I thought, “what the heck.” They had some conditions though. The first was that I had to watch it on Sunday. The second was that I had to be around the phone on Monday at a time I specified with all of the paperwork they would send filled out. No problem there. The final thing was that there would be no payments for my work, but instead I’d be put in for a chance to win some prizes. Hmmmm…another odd thing. Oh well, I’ll play along even though this was sounding more suspicious.
The next day, a Friday, I received a package from UPS which was left under the outdoor mat in front of my door. Pulling it in, I opened it up. Inside was a VHS tape with “DO NOT REWIND” and “SPECIAL TAPE” plastered on the front. Another odd thing. Also included in the package were some documents. There were two prize booklets and a program evaluation sheet. There were only seven questions on the evaluation about this new sitcom called Dads. Looking back at the prize booklets, I suddenly knew what this was about. This was verified when I opened the booklets and saw all sorts of products inside with instructions for me to pick my favorite brand. Commercials!
The instructions had something else that caught my eye. “The Program Test tape is special — it erases as it plays!” I took a look at the tape including looking inside the flap. I didn’t see anything obvious, but figured there was a magnet somewhere. OK, that demanded a lookup on the Internet to find that magnet. Turns out, it was a small magnet with black tape parked next to where the tape would pass after it had been viewed (left side as the tape would sit in the VCR, accessed by opening up the flap). I removed the magnet.
So, now I could fast-forward or rewind the tape it I wanted, but since I knew it wouldn’t be erased, I would still be good and follow the “do not fast-forward or rewind” instructions.
Now to look up Dads on the Internet. IMDB.com had some interesting information. Apparently this sitcom pilot was created in 1997. OK, while I already knew the purpose of this market research would be commercials, I was irritated at their pitch of seeing about bringing a new sitcom to TV. Yeah, a pilot created in 1997 isn’t going to be made into a TV series. The remarks on IMDB confirmed that this pilot was only being used to do the commercial marketing.
I no longer even wanted to watch the tape hearing how bad the sitcom was. However, I’d made a commitment and so come Sunday night, I watched the smegging thing. It was as awful as stated. It wasn’t funny and was so stupid, I’m amazed that the pilot was even green lighted. The only good thing was seeing the attractive Jane Sibbett, but that’s not saying much. I was happy when the tape finally said, “Stop this now! Do not rewind.”
Monday came and I received my call. Of course the questions were all about the commercials and what I remembered. Did I remember a commercial with “this” in it? Did I remember a commercial with “that” in it? Ultimately, the caller zeroed in on a commercial that I really didn’t remember. Turns out it was an Auto Zone commercial. Well, I’m not someone who shops at auto-parts places and I’ve only been once (maybe twice now that I’ve had more time to reflect on it) in the last five years. So that must have been why the commercial didn’t stick in my mind.
Despite relaying to the caller that I don’t shop at auto parts stores, the questions kept coming, made worse in that her English wasn’t the greatest (her accent was pretty thick — no offense to her). In fact, they made me watch the commercial again, which was conveniently at the end of where I’d stopped the tape. OK, while I grew up in the country, seeing two farmers putting hay in a pickup truck with one talking about how great the Auto Zone guy was for saving him money by figuring out he didn’t have the bad car problem he thought he had. Great. I don’t do my own auto repairs, so I’m not sure how I can be helpful. That didn’t stop the questions, which I’ve reconstructed as best as possible from memory.
“Does this commercial make you think Auto Zone is more trustworthy than other auto parts places?” Since I don’t shop auto parts places, I assume they all are basically the same. Heck, I’m sure that based on my experiences in other places like Wal Mart, Best Buy, CompUSA, etc., some stores will be better than others, depending on the knowledge of their employees. So no, your hideous commercial didn’t make me think Auto Zone was more trustworthy.
“Based on this commercial, do you think that Auto Zone is better, the same, worse than other auto parts stores?” GAH! Whatever! I mean do these people really think that a single, stupid commercial about Auto Zone is going to make me think, “Wow! I think this place is better than all others even though I can’t remember the names of any of them!”
There were lots and lots of questions like that as well as “Have you heard of these auto parts stores” (which shockingly I had). In the end, I don’t see how I was helpful because frankly, if Auto Zone wants to get a better idea of their commercials, they need to find out from the folks who actually shop at such stores! That seems a simple thing to me. After all, if I don’t do my own auto repairs and I don’t go to auto parts stores, then it is only natural that ANYTHING such a store would have to say to me in an advertisement would be ignored by me.
Finally, the questioner got to the seven bogus questions about the sitcom. Obviously, these questions were just part of the bogus “we are interested in your opinion on this sitcom” and I made sure to remark that I knew they didn’t care about a 1997 sitcom pilot. When the obligatory questions about the sitcom were over, she told me that I could now throw out the tape because it couldn’t be reused. Ha!ha! I removed the magnet, so if I wanted to, I could rip it, re-watch it, etc., not that I’d ever want to.
Thus, I survived Audience Studies, Inc.’s horrible market research scheme on an Auto Zone advertisement disguised as a desire to hear my opinions on a sitcom. SO, if you ever get a call wanting you to watch a sitcom being considered for development, beware that they most likely want your opinions on a specific commercial instead.