Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Confessions of a Snack Study Subject, or: "How Much are you Willing to Do for $240.?"

In late April, Mike & I were doing our usual shopping at Costco, when an opportunity for extra income occurred. It was around noontime, when all of the "Samplers" were out ("Samplers" is the name that I give the folks who encourage you to try their products).  I understand how important it is for shoppers to slow down & check out the goodies in the set-ups at the ends of the isles.  If there is enough interest, those products will be the ones which Costco will choose to stock.  I was a Sampler myself a couple of times, when I worked for a temp. agency. It isn't as easy as it looks.  I even did a comic about it,  after a couple of days of trying to get shoppers to sample the products I was pushing:

In any event, Mike & I stopped to try a snack mix that was offered.  It looked like CHEX cereal - ventilated squares, though much larger.  Mike grabbed a bag after tasting the salty bits, much to the delight of the Sampler.  Good. We made somebody happy, not noticing that we were also being followed.  "Excuse me, Ma'am - I noticed that you picked up that bag of Chex Chips (note: these were not "Chex Mix", but a product that is currently not being sold).  Would it be o.k. if I ask you a few questions about it?"   The young lady addressing me was carrying a clipboard, ready to record my responses.  This reminded me of my days of working for market research companies. 

 My first job was for Far West Research in San Francisco back in 1970, at $2. an hour.  That was decent money back then. "All" I had to do was stand around in Union Square, asking passers-by how they felt about particular companies or products. That wound up being a tough assignment! Nobody wants to hang around answering questions.  I got more brush-offs than a linty sweater. 

I also worked for Tragon Marketing in Redwood City, this time doing phone interviews.   Even though marketers are not asking for money, people often respond as if you are, and I guess since time is money, time is life, and is it is always a challenge to find folks who are willing to answer a few dozen questions or more.  LOTS of telephone hang-ups, lots of rejections. It didn't help that there was a quota to be met, and that calls were monitored. These were not even unsolicited phone calls, as the folks we phoned had signed up for the program.  They knew that if they were chosen for a study, they could be paid for their time, and also participate in some interesting projects.  The most popular one that I recall was was a week-long beer-sampling study. 

I didn't have problems finding interested subjects to participate in that one - I just had trouble finding QUALIFIED subjects - ones who were male, aged 18-35.  I had a preponderance of men and women who would jump at the chance to help out, and felt really bad when I discovered that, after questioning so many, that most were over 40, the majority being in the 60-80 year-old range.   Even though my personal feelings were that the requirements were ageist & rank discrimination (hey - don't 80-yr-old ladies enjoy their beer, too?), I had to adhere to the rules of the study.  No cheating. 

So, I guess I've established that when the researcher caught up with me at Costco, I was able to empathize with her plight, and answered a few questions.  The questioning turned to more questions, and while Mike was finishing up with our shopping, the interviewer - named Pam - was taking notes on my comments, as we stood in the candy isle. After the interview, just as I turned to walk away, Pam gave me a check for $50., plus a coupon off of my Costco Purchases for another $40.  She told me that it was a thank-you for answering the questions.  Well, how sweet was that?  

But before I could head out to the checkout stand, Pam then asked if I would consider doing a fun little project for another $100.?  Of course I would! She explained that it would all be done online (not a problem), & that I would have to answer questions each day about my snacking habits.  I would have to include snacking on Chex Chips, of course.  She said that I could use my iphone to upload photos and videos to the company's website of myself eating (say WHAT?  I have to photograph and video myself...eating?  Yikes!).  I'd also have to keep a snacking journal each day.  My reluctance started to show as she explained that part, but she reassured me that no one else would see the photos and video.  She then thanked me for being a good sport, and handed me a folder with a questionnaire of pages & instructions. Gulp. 

And so, for the next 5 days, I faithfully went online & answered questions, filling in my journal, while uploading images of myself stuffing my face with Chex Chips.  Since Mike had bought the snacks for himself, I portioned out a couple of baggies filled with the snacks.  It was also a time of self-awareness at my own snacking habits.  I was able to upload images of other things that I snacked on...which included fruit and nuts, but also included a lot of junk that I gnosh on that I won't describe here. Suffice it to say, it was an eye-opener (and a mouth-closer)!

As anyone who has answered marketing questionnaires knows, they don't just ask one question, and then are done with it, but analyze & question again, over & over, every nuance of why you use a product (or service, etc.). I basically answered a lot of the same questions every day. Pam communicated with me via chat, if she had more questions to my answers, so I was spending at least 30 min-1 hour every day on the journal.  On one of the days, I thought I'd make it interesting, so I made a clam-oyster dip with yogurt to dip the snacks into.  Below is the result of that session.

You get the idea.  I have always been sort of an overachiever, so went above & beyond the expectations of the interviewer.  All of my questions, videos, and images were submitted in full, in record time.  By the end of the week, as I was filling in the last of the questions, uploaded my final photo (and could hardly stand to look at another bag of snacks), Pam surprised me by saying that I had done such a good job, that she was adding another $50. to my check, and would I please fill out my mailing information? Well...YEAH!

Two weeks later, I was rewarded for my participation.  

Would I do it again?  Uh...well....maybe. Though I might be more motivated if it were a beer study!