I Lied My Ass Off To Get Invited To Focus Groups
If you have ever been young and bad with money — which I assume, if you’re following this blog, you have — you should read it, and feel a little less alone in your chaotic financial journey. And in the meantime, Steph has been kind enough to provide TFD with an excerpt to enjoy, and perhaps even *turns creepily to smile at the camera* learn from.
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This story begins in Midtown. The first time — and the second, and the third — I race uptown from my job in the East Village to a shiny, generic office called “Focus Point Global” or “Pointe Global Focus” or some other arrangement of words that prides itself on inscrutability. I fill out a clipboard questionnaire in the waiting room and am guided into what looks like an interrogation room for upstanding citizens: cameras in every corner, an inconspicuous mirror if you’ve never watched a police drama, bottles of water, comfy chairs. The others file in: the housewife, the recent college grad, the man in a suit with an ostensibly “good” job (but why would he be here with us plebes if that were the case?). We take our places around a table and an enthusiastic moderator — usually a white dude who’d be better suited for a job at Nickelodeon — explains that everything we say and do during the next two hours will be recorded for research purposes. Then we scratch our names out on placards and place them in front of us, waiting to discuss cellphones or hair care products or juices we might consider buying in the next six months. When we’re done sharing our consumer opinions, we check out at the front desk and receive an envelope with a check in it — $100 or $125 or $150, a number nice and round. Even though we’ve spent the past 120 minutes talking to one another, my fellow focus group participants and I avoid making eye contact once we’re in the elevator.
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Once, in the waiting room, I heard two middle-aged women speak to each other about their day. “That one on 47th Street? I was in that mock trial, too! I thought I recognized you from somewhere. What did you think? I thought he was guilty, for sure he was. What was that stalemate about? Some people, I don’t understand. I’ve been a member of the jury in my fair share of mock trials and I know a murderer when I see one, but it’s like some people just want to play the contrarian. Good money, though, either way.”
Consider my curiosity piqued. I was always lusting after something more than the traditional focus group. Did these ladies know they could smoke medical marijuana at Columbia Presbyterian for like, hundreds of dollars? Or about that clinical study where the administrators fasten electrodes to your head and make you press a button every time a blue frog appears on the TV instead of a green one? That one was sort of a downer; I was always exhausted afterward, the electrodes left globs of leave-in conditioner in my hair, and the administrators wouldn’t even allow me to take a photo of myself wearing my Medusa helmet. That’s probably what bothered me most: here I was looking like I’d just undergone 1970s ECT and I couldn’t even get a selfie to remind myself that being broke was sometimes interesting.
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I got into focus groups and clinical studies when I realized I would never make a substantial salary. I started out small — taking surveys online that would, if I were lucky, award me with $2.50 for my time (I was making about five cents an hour). Then I discovered in-person, high-paying focus groups, but it would be a long six months before I figured out how to qualify for them. I was always taking screeners and getting cut off for what seemed like unfair reasons: I worked in the wrong industry or knew someone who did, my income was less than $30K a year, I was always the last person to buy new technologies among my friends. After enough rejections, I was able to piece together the type of person I needed to be to pass a screener: I work as an administrative assistant in a dental office. I shun every person in my life that works as a marketer, or an advertiser, or just happens to have strong opinions on the nutritional value of frozen food. My household income is over $100K, I have no ethnicity, and I make all the purchasing decisions for my family. I am perpetually on the verge of buying a new smartphone, laptop, DSLR camera, and plasma television. I plan to purchase all of these things sometime in the next six months, in fact. I am on the cutting edge of consumerism, and friends often ask me for recommendations re: what they should splurge on, to which I respond, “Everything.” I am influential and opinionated. Depending on the nature of the focus group, sometimes I am a mom.
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Get a copy of Some Things I Did For Money here.